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Campus Safety: There’s an App for That

Posted on October 20, 2015, at 3:30 p.m.
by Mackenzie Lyng.

“Text me when you get home.” We have all heard this common goodbye, whether hearing it from a friend or saying it ourselves. But what if you could virtually track a friend’s trip home, check if they’re feeling unsafe or threatened, and guarantee that they can quickly call the police in an emergency?

Now you can with the free mobile app Companion. Developed by five University of Michigan students, the app gives you and your friends the ability to actively participate in ensuring one another’s safety when walking alone.

Since its launch on Aug. 19, Companion has climbed to the top of the App Store and has gained thousands of users from over 180 countries.

Companion, available for both Andriod and iOS, lets users send requests to friends to track their commutes home using GPS. The friend or contact does not need to have the Companion app installed. Users can send several requests in case people are unavailable or do not respond.

Those contacted receive an SMS text message with a link to an online, interactive map showing the user traveling to their destination. If the user strays off the path, falls, starts running or even has their headphones yanked from their phone, Companion detects these changes and asks the user if they are OK.

If the user is safe, they press a button to confirm their safety within 15 seconds. If they do not press the button, or an actual emergency is happening, Companion turns the user’s phone into a personal alarm system that emits loud noises to scare away offenders and bring attention to the situation at hand, while giving users the option to instantly call the police.

Originally designed for student safety while walking across university campuses at night, Companion often partners with university police departments. If a user calls 911, the app not only alerts local police, but also university police. However, not all campuses have taken the “Companion pledge.” The feature is only applicable to universities that have signed up to work with Companion.

Simultaneously, the app will send a message to a user’s contacted friend, who can choose to call the police and give a user’s location. In addition to contacting police and alerting friends, users can press an ‘I am nervous” button, which informs the app where and when a user feels unsafe. Companion’s developers said that in only a week after the app’s launch, they collected over 500 incidents where students across many university campuses felt unsafe or threatened.

While the app remains a free product, Companion’s creators are funding their project by working with universities. They aspire to connect every single university campus’ police department to the app.

I commend Companion’s mission of student safety. Companion is the paradigm of action orientation. As a University of Alabama (UA) student, I am alerted with campus safety reports involving threats toward students.

Currently, UA uses Rave’s Guardian Campus Safety mobile app to keep students safe. The Guardian app offers several features to help students feel safe and alert authorities during emergencies. Students can set up a personal safety network of friends, family and peers. Like Companion, the Guardian plays a significant role campus and student safety.

As other personal-safety apps enter the digital market, campus safety awareness continues to grow. These integrated forms of mobile technology generate a dialogue amongst students and within the national collegiate community. Students have the choice to ensure their personal safety and the resources to do so.

So when you’re coming home from the library late at night, never walk alone. Stay connected, whether you seek out Companions or you are a Companion yourself.

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