LifeLine personal safety app will notify cops in 20 seconds

Staff report


A college freshman is walking to her car from class at the end of the day. It’s nighttime, and the unthinkable happens: Someone comes up behind her and attacks her.

The attacker doesn’t know that the woman, upon leaving the classroom, had launched the LifeLine EDU personal-safety application on her smart phone. When the attacker grabbed her, she dropped the phone, and the app started a 20-second countdown to notifying local authorities.

LifeLine Response Founder Peter Cahill calls it the “21st-century 911. ... In a tenth of a millisecond, our server grabs all the information about her exact location and sends it to our response-verification center.”

What triggers the response is the user’s thumb leaving the cellphone screen, Cahill said. A piercing alarm sounds, and the LifeLine dispatcher attempts to call the user. If no contact is made, LifeLine calls the nearest 911 dispatch center.

“Some people say it’s overkill. What I’m trying to do is prevent the attack from ever taking place,” Cahill said.

LifeLine is one of three personal-safety applications being considered by the Youngstown State University Police Department for use on campus by students, faculty and staff.

YSU Police Chief John Beshara said he’s evaluating the apps, including LifeLine EDU, for cost and effectiveness, but he’s concerned that the technology will be outdated as soon as he signs a contract. His department has tested apps by LifeLine, Guardly and EmergenSee, all of which are compatible with smartphones, including iPhones and Androids, and are downloadable for free.

“We see it as a good tool, as a means to further increase safety and security on campus,” Beshara said. “I’m no tech guy, but I see the good use of it.”

Using a personal-safety app sometimes is better than calling 911 from a cellphone because the call is automatic and instantaneous, said Adam Guerrieri, a YSU police dispatcher. The app also can provide medical information about the caller and, using GPS technology, specific information about the caller’s whereabouts.

LifeLine and Guardly also send a text message and email to the user’s “lifeline” — people previously identified by the user as family and friends who can help in the case of a medical emergency.

“As a law-enforcement officer with a background in SWAT, to be able to get the information that this app provides is critical when it comes to emergency response,” Beshara said. “Seconds to us mean lives.”

A YSU student using such an app would be connected automatically to the university’s emergency-dispatch center, as long as he or she is within the university’s “geo fence” — as far south as the Mahoning River and as far north as Wick Park, Beshara said.

Even though the app is free, there is a cost to the university — anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000 in startup costs, Beshara said. The university would have to sign a contract with one of the technology companies for the app to be effective on campus.

Beshara said he is looking for a way to make the app’s use cost-effective for both students and the university.

Under one scenario, with 6,750 students participating, the cost would be about $3 a year, to be added to the students’ bill, he said.

Beshara said he has talked to students about the app and has the support of student government. He expects to make a decision within the month.

“This is technology I haven’t seen. I think it’s cutting-edge stuff,” he said.

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