Lauren Goode

Recent Posts by Lauren Goode

MyForce Pushes a Panic-Button App for the Campus

Today’s shootings at Virginia Tech are another reminder that, despite a relatively new mandate for universities to provide student communities with timely warnings in the event of danger, danger could still occur, leaving those involved feeling helpless.

One security company has been looking to the device many students have in their hands at all times — their smartphone — to see if a one-touch security app could mean even faster response times.

Colorado-based MyForce has developed the MyForce Campus System, with a compatible mobile app, for university safety officials to receive alerts placed within campus borders. It provides access to such details as a student’s location, health conditions and emergency contacts. The app works on iPhone, BlackBerry and Android smartphones.

The app overrides the phone’s lock feature so — as long as the user has the MyForce app open — the interface will always be accessible, though the screen may dim a bit. If a user is in imminent danger, he or she can press the large button featured on the app that sends an immediate notification to MyForce and to campus security officials (provided they are equipped to use the MyForce monitoring software). MyForce also begins to pinpoint the user’s GPS location and record streaming audio from the phone. (MyForce says this information remains private in the company’s database, aside from sharing it with law enforcement officials at the time of the emergency. It can also be submitted later on as evidence of a crime.)

When the user sends an alert, the phone vibrates and also prompts the user to enter a PIN code — so if it’s a misfire that the user didn’t mean to send, he or she can disarm the app by entering in the PIN. At that point, MyForce says it then stops tracking the user.

“The one thing students always have in their hands these days is a smartphone,” said Brad Zotti, MyForce’s co-founder. The idea for the app occurred to him when he was visiting a college campus and thought about integrating the “blue light” emergency phone stands into a mobile phone. “Even if you call 911, it might take some time for your location to be recognized,” he said. “And other security apps promise to send texts or emails to your closest contacts, but who knows if or when they’ll be able to respond?”

MyForce is currently being used at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. The privately owned company just signed a deal with e2Campus, another school security solutions company, to potentially bring the mobile-app version of the “blue light” system to e2Campus’ client base of around 800 schools in the U.S.

Part of MyForce’s challenge will be convincing more schools to use the app. There may be some resistance on the part of school law enforcement bodies to adopt a third-party security monitoring system, and there could also be varying layers of approval needed at the administrative level.

Even if administrators don’t officially opt in to the MyForce monitoring system, students and parents can still purchase the app themselves, though it may offer a less immediate response action. In that case, MyForce still offers to work with school officials to create a virtual “geo-fence” around a college campus that establishes which areas should be monitored. If a student is in danger and presses the button within that geo-fence, the alert goes to MyForce’s dashboard, and MyForce can then call campus security directly.

It won’t cost anything to download the mobile app, but subscriptions to MyForce cost $11.99 per month or $119 annually.

Since the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, many schools have put more sophisticated emergency alert systems in place. Universities are required under the Clery Act to provide campus crime reports and timely warnings in potentially dangerous situations.

As we’re reminded today, there are instances in which no amount of campus security, call boxes or instantaneous mobile applications can prevent danger. And apps like MyForce rely on working wireless and data networks in order to send emergency notifications.

Hopefully, as the technology improves, more solutions will emerge to bring help to users in desperate situations and speed up response times even more.

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