Smartphone apps link Greater New Haven college students to safety
At a time when a mass shooting at a college is again in the news, smartphone apps that directly contact campus security are rising in popularity, but many students still say calling 911 and using emergency phones marked with blue lights are the way they would signal an incident to police.
Several universities in the area offer such apps, with names such as LiveSafe at Yale University, Rave Guardian at Quinnipiac University and at the University of New Haven.
But students at Yale and at Southern Connecticut State University, which doesn’t have such an app, said they mostly felt safe and would rely on calling campus police.
School shootings like the one Thursday in Roseburg, Oregon, in which 10 died, including the shooter, are not rare. According to the group Everytown for Gun Safety, there have been at least 142 since the Dec. 14, 2012, shootings in Newtown — an average of almost one a week.
Much more common are petty crimes, such as , in which four males knocked over a cyclist and stole his bike and backpack.
Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart said in an email that there are 1,000 LiveSafe users at Yale, including students, faculty and staff, who have sent in 2,091 tips, 13 percent of them about suspicious activity. She said calling 911 on a cell phone does not give dispatchers a caller’s location, which makes LiveSafe more useful.
“When users contact the campus police using the ‘Call Campus Police’ feature, the communications officers will know the caller’s exact location and their contact information,” she wrote. “In cases where the caller is in a situation where they can’t speak or don’t want to be heard, police will be monitoring the location from the second the call is placed. App users can also use the ‘Message Campus Police’ option. Both ensure police will be able to locate the person quickly and respond appropriately. LiveSafe turns smartphones into an ‘emergency blue light phone’ in the pocket of every student.”
However, several Yale students interviewed either didn’t have the app or hadn’t used it.
“I have the number for campus security on my phone and there’s blue phones everywhere. I wasn’t aware of an app,” said Jacob Neis, a junior. “As a student it’s kind of drilled into your head … that you can call security and they’ll come and pick you up.”
Milana Bochkur, a sophomore, had the LiveSafe app unused on her phone. “I always walk with people I know but if I was alone I would use it,” she said.
Most other students questioned said they didn’t see it as a valuable tool.
LiveSafe and other apps work in similar ways, relying on a smartphone’s GPS to locate a caller. They allow users to designate friends who can watch as they move from place to place.
“We have the panic button feature … that directly immediately connects public safety with the student’s location,” said Edgar Rodriguez, director of public safety at Quinnipiac. “All they’ve got to do is press that button and with a GPS we know exactly where a student is.”
He said students who have gotten lost in Sleeping Giant State Park across from the main Hamden campus have used it to summon help. He said the feature on the app to call 911 works nationwide and that about 1,000 users affiliated with Quinnipiac have it.
Police Chief Mark DeLieto at UNH said the EmergenSee app will launch the smartphone user’s microphone and camera, and the image will show up in police headquarters. But, he said, “It’s not meant to circumvent dialing 911 in an emergency,” because dispatchers can more easily talk to the caller.
In a situation where a potential victim can’t talk, however, such as during invasion of someone with a gun, it could be more helpful, he said.
“If there’s a true emergency taking place, we want you to dial 911,” DeLieto said. “If you’re not in a position to talk, you can hit the app.”
SCSU Police Chief Joseph Dooley said in an email that Southern is looking at different safety apps but urged students to call police, dial 911 or use a blue emergency phone.
“Throughout the year, Southern offers many orientation and informational sessions to help them stay safe,” he wrote. “They are strongly urged to sign up for SouthernAlert, an emergency notification system, to notify them in case of an emergency, and for instructions in what to do in case of an imminent threat.”
David DeLise, a junior at Southern, said he would call 911 in an emergency, but otherwise would call campus police in a suspicious situation.
Torisan Tamauro, a freshman, said she feels safe on campus “There’s so many cameras. Everywhere you look there’s a camera, so we’re very protected.”
“It depends on circumstances,” said Danny Silva, another freshman. He said if there’s an incident “people are likely to call the cops.”
Victoria Louis, a freshman, said that if an app were available, “I don’t think personally I would use it, but it would be nice to have.”
At Yale, Brendan Hellweg, a sophomore, said “it felt pretty immediately threatening” when he heard about the cyclist being attacked, because he tends to bike everywhere. He said of LiveSafe, “I don’t think I’d use it on a day-to-day basis, but if I was going someplace that was distinctly seedy then I might give it a try.”
Graduate student Tina Noohi said she thought the tracking feature was a good one, but if she were in a threatening situation, “I would probably just dial 911 before I would go into the app.”
©2015 the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.)
Visit the New Haven Register (New Haven, Conn.) at www.nhregister.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency LLC.