Instead of calling the police in an emergency, new mobile applications allow students in dangerous situations to receive help with the click of a button.
Safety mobile apps collect users’ personal information, which is sent to police in an emergency when the user activates the app. However, while app developers say the technology is intended to increase student safety, University Police said students should primarily dial 911 or activate the blue light system on campus during an emergency.
One of the mobile apps is OnCall Defender, which allows iPhone users to input information including identification photos and phone numbers. The application, which was developed last year, can also track the user’s location using GPS and can emit a high-pitched alarm to deter anyone who appears to be a threat.
University alum Marsha Newman, president of AMP, LLC — the company that operates OnCall Defender — said the app also has a stealth mode, which can be used in situations when speaking might be dangerous. Through the stealth mode, the app sends information to OnCall Defender’s monitoring station at the touch of a button. OnCall Defender’s licensed monitoring station then contacts authorities and passes on the user’s information.
“A lot of times in an emergency situation you’re not in a position to say, ‘I feel uncomfortable with this guy,’” Newman said. “It has particular relevance on campus because you can do the stealth mode, you don’t have to get parents involved, (and) you don’t have to get anyone else involved.”
In light of the recent assaults in Ann Arbor and attempted robberies on campus, Marsha and her husband Fred Newman, also a University alum and CEO of AMP, LLC, said they hope students with iPhones will use the mobile app. Marsha said she believes OnCall Defender is faster and more efficient than calling 911 and, like a home alarm system, the monitoring station immediately knows who’s calling.
“The main goal is for people to protect themselves — to have a monitored emergency security system,” Marsha said.
Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the University’s Department of Public Safety, said though she is unfamiliar with the mobile app, she believes calling 911 is the “most effective way to get help.”
Brown suggested that students use the Blue Light Emergency Phone System on campus or text DPS in situations when speaking aloud is difficult.
The OnCall Defender mobile app is free to download, but iPhone users pay a subscription fee of $6.99 per month for a year-long subscription or $11.99 for month-to-month service. A similar mobile app, MyForce, is compatible with the iPhone, BlackBerry and Android. While it costs the same for a month-long subscription, it is more expensive than OnCall Defender for a year-long subscription at $119.
Similar to OnCall Defender, the MyForce program has customers register personal information and upload a picture of themselves. MyForce also uses a GPS tracking system that helps local police departments find the reportee when the distress signal is sent.
The main difference between the two apps is that MyForce also records the incident once the distress signal is sent. According to the MyForce website, the company aims to serve as an alternative to blue light phones and to provide users with an additional emergency and safety resource.
“Wherever students are on campus when they send their alert from their smartphone, you get an instant alert notification in an emergency, alleviating the student’s need to find a blue-light phone,” the MyForce website states.
According to the MyForce Facebook page, the company has a current three-month free promotion since September is National Campus Safety Awareness Month.
LSA junior Kelly Lenkevich said she was unfamiliar with the mobile apps and doesn’t feel the need to pay for the services.
“I don’t feel threatened enough for it to be a worthwhile investment,” Lenkevich said.
However, Lenkevich added that this kind of mobile app might be a good resource in an emergency.
“If you’re in a situation, you can’t always take the time to call 911,” she said.
Similarly, LSA junior DeJone Miles said she is not interested in paying for a safety mobile app service, though she supports their purpose to increase student safety. She said if a similar and free smartphone application were available, she would consider using it.