A Toronto-based mobile app developer aims to improve the way campus security works by providing more information to dispatchers, and notifying a contacts network connected to a potential victim. All it takes is for students to download the free app and set up a touch-screen panic button.

Guardly gives Canadian students a pocket panic button

Canadian post-secondary students armed with smartphones can now download a free app that gives them a one-tap panic button to contact campus security, a Toronto-based mobile developer announced today.

Guardly Corp. makes a smartphone app that sends an emergency alert to a pre-established list of contacts determined by the user. Those contacts are called and learn of the alert sender’s location via GPS, whether 911 has been called, and are given the option to join a conference call to discuss the situation with other contacts. Today, Guardly released a free service that will connect students who register with a university or college-issued e-mail address with campus security when they send an alert while on campus.

Having been through an incubation period at Toronto-based OCAD University, Guardly staff is familiar with campus safety measures, says Josh Sookman, CEO at Guardly. Typically, emergency intercom connections to campus security are installed on large posts visible across a campus.

“We developed the technology first for the end-consumer. As we started to work with schools, we started to realize how it resonated with the ways they delivered safety tools to schools,” he says. “If someone is actually having an emergency on campus, it’s hard for them to find this post and then stay by it.”

Guardly also offers a Safe Campus service to school campuses. The paid-for service provides a Web-based dashboard to security dispatchers providing additional information from the app, such as GPS location, and can connect them with the student via instant messaging if a phone connection can’t be made. Offering all students a level of free service could give the Safe Campus program a boost, Sookman says.

“Students can gain awareness of this initiative and what’s going on,” he says. “The next step for us is to go out to the universities.”

Guardly has been conducting a pilot program of its Safe Campus service with OCAD University for the past six months. Next week, the service will roll out on the Toronto campus with 20 managers who will test it on a daily basis for several weeks. The aim is to have the live app in the hands of 300 to 400 students by March, and promote it to all students when the new school year begins in September, according to Louis Toromoreno, the manager of campus security at OCAD.

“We’re happy to be the guinea pig and do a pilot project,” he says. “Like anything that’s new, it’ll have growing pains.”

The service could help OCAD dispatchers deal with more incoming calls simultaneously and quickly locate a student in trouble using an on-screen map, Toromoreno says. It also allows the dispatcher to collaborate with members of the alert sender’s contacts network, to quickly learn of potentially relevant information such as allergies or medical conditions.

“It basically acts as the emergency phone we have throughout campus, but in your pocket,” he says. Students or faculty “can get in contact with us via text, instead of having to go outside the classroom and telling us where the emergency is while staying at the phone and having to talk to us.”

One glitch OCAD University has encountered with Guardly’s app so far is that it’s difficult to get an accurate GPS location from BlackBerry phones. As a result, the school will be providing its students with a modified version of the Guardly app that prompts a BlackBerry user to determine whether they are sending an alert from the north campus or south campus location.

“We’re such a small university, it allows our security dispatcher to send someone to that area,” Toromoreno says. “Then they can gather more details about the location from the caller.”

Guardly is available for iOS, BlackBerry, Windows Phone 7, and Android platforms.

Guardly is also conducting a “Campus Hero” campaign on its Web site and Facebook, encouraging students to download the app and use it to report any sexual assaults they might be witness to.

“Anyone that has the app with a mobile phone can immediately report crime. They don’t need to get involved and put themselves on the line,” Sookman says. “We’re hoping that we can see a decrease in overall crime at university campuses that use this.”

According to the Department of Justice, one in four women are victims of rape or attempted rape within a four-year college period. Bystanders are present in 28 per cent of sexual assault cases.

Trent University posts online the number of calls received monthly by its campus security team. In November, 2011 it received 1,250 calls, and in October it received 973 calls.

Brian JacksonBrian Jackson is the Associate Editor at ITBusiness.ca. Follow him on Twitter, read his blog, and check out the IT Business Facebook Page.

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