Feb 25, 2014 6:40 PM by MELISSA CANONE
A new smartphone app will enable users to create a virtual safety net of friends, family and University Police.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette's Student Government Association has purchased a customized version of the high-tech tool. SGA is making it available, at no cost, to anyone who has a University email address and smartphone.
The Rave Guardian Campus Safety App is offered by Rave Mobile Safety, the company that provides UL Lafayette's emergency notification system.
The app has been described as a "virtual escort." Here's how it works:
A user downloads the web-based app onto his smartphone and creates a profile that includes pertinent personal information, such as his name, address, any medical conditions, and ID photo. He can also create a list of "guardians" who would be notified under certain circumstances. The guardian must also have the app on his smartphone. A generic version is free and can be used with any email address.
"Say you're going out on a date with a guy for the first time. You want to let someone know who you are going out with, where you are going, and what time you expect to be back," said University Police Capt. Charles Gisclair.
"You would use the app to record that information. Suppose you plan to be home by midnight. If you don't deactivate the timer by 12 o'clock, the app will automatically notify the designated guardian.
"The first thing the guardian would do would be to call you to see if you're okay. If you can't be reached, the app enables the guardian to immediately notify University Police that you're not back home yet. That notification can be sent regardless of whether you designated University Police as a guardian."
The University Police dispatcher on campus receives the notification. "Because this is web-based software, we can also receive the notification in our patrol units, where we have wi-fi access," Gisclair continued.
"The only time University Police would have access to the user's personal profile would be when the notification is activated. It gives us the user's info. And, as long as the user's smartphone GPS is operating, the app will ping that phone and show us where it's located."
Officers can then investigate the situation to determine if the user is in trouble.
The Rave Guardian app can be downloaded from the Apple Store. During registration, the user is able to indicate whether he is affiliated with a university.
The Guardian app has a feature intended to minimize the number of notifications that might be sent because the user simply forgets to deactivate the timer when he reaches his intended destination.
"There are actually two warnings before the timer goes off," Gisclair said. "The first notification is a text message: ‘You've got a certain number of minutes left on your timer.'
"Then, within the last minute, the app places an automated call that says, ‘You have 59 seconds to deactivate the timer.' "
Gisclair said other universities that have adopted the app have reported few "false" notifications.
"I think our students will use this app. It's a very useful tool," he said.
David Neef, SGA president, said providing the app has been a long-term goal. "We wanted to make sure our students feel safe wherever they are. This app can also be used in an emergency to quickly contact University Police or 911. And, it's a tool that enables the user to anonymously report anything suspicious to police."
University Police Chief Joey Sturm stressed that the service is not limited to UL Lafayette's campus. A faculty member who is attending a conference in another part of the United States could use it, for example. "If the app's timer goes off, then when we get that person's identification information, we can notify the appropriate law enforcement jurisdiction," he said. The service is not available in other countries, however.
The Guardian app for smartphones was recently introduced by Rave Mobile Safety. A previous version was offered for cellphones but the app for smartphones is easier to use, Gisclair said. It's estimated that 92 percent of all college students have smartphones.
More than 50 colleges and universities have chosen the Rave Guardian Campus Safety App, including Georgia Tech and Tulane University.