Mobile app puts campus security in students’ palms
By Roger Morris
Special to Delaware Business Times
Now the Newark-based startup is experimenting with another tool for closing the distance between those in need and the people around them who can help.
The app is called Eye Need A Witness, and it allows students who feel threatened or harassed to notify other users, campus security or law enforcement using GPS technology. If widely adopted on campus, the app creates a geographic network of students who can give direct assistance or later provide testimony about an incident.
“The idea is to provide a community of care around people by leveraging the smartphone revolution, where we all have the internet in our pocket,” said Gabriel Humphreys, Green Line’s director of operations and technology.
While overall crimes on campus, including burglary and auto theft, have fallen in recent years, sex offenses and other assaults have shot up, according to the most recent data by the National Center for Education Statistics.
Locally, Delaware State University in Dover reported 199 “safety-related incidents involving students” during its most recent year. The University of Delaware in Newark reported a total of 39 crimes, including 12 on-campus rapes, nine cases of fondling, eight of aggravated assault, five of dating violence and five of stalking.
“We’ve only been working on Eye Need A Witness for about three months, but we’ve already received considerable interest from colleges,” said Anthony Wright, president and CEO of Green Line.
Wright expects the first institutions to sign up this summer before students return for the fall semester. He added that Green Line has filed patent applications for the technology and concept.
Many colleges have adopted tech solutions to campus safety. The University of Delaware uses a safety app called LiveSafe that connects students with campus police 24/7. The UD Police Department has also increased its presence on social media and is looking into drone technology for monitoring purposes.
Neither UD nor Green Line – located near campus at the Delaware Technology Park – would confirm if Delaware’s largest college was on the list of potential clients. But UD Police expressed an openness to trying out new methods and collaborations.
“Technology plays a big role in our strategy for keeping the University of Delaware as safe as possible, and because of this, all technology systems are in a constant state of evaluation, expansion and maintenance,” said Capt. Jason Pires, operations commander for UD Police.
Green Line is banking on attracting colleges through several features: the system requires no setup costs or capital outlay; institutions can establish a central monitoring station with an existing computer; it costs 99 cents per student a month; and students can quickly alert the campus community if there is a shooter present or warn of any sort other of dangerous situation without making noise.
Whenever people nearby respond, they can instantly click on the app to locate the caller and get additional details. The map also shows the location of the caller and any campus security or law enforcement personnel that may be on the way. If the perceived threat ends up a false alarm, the app allows the person involved to let people in the network know that the threat is over.
Outside student communities, parents may also join the network at their own cost.
A common question Wright said he gets when presenting Eye Need A Witness is why shouldn’t a student simply call 911?
“Calling 911 is the nuclear option,” he said, “and even 911 takes time to get information and respond. The app can make 911 calls, but it also provides an intermediate option of alerting.”
In addition, the app is not limited to campus. “Even if a student is travelling abroad and feels threatened, they can send out an alert to their network,” Humphreys said. That person’s location is noted, and local authorities can be contacted by network members or campus security.
The app creates a permanent record of all communications. “You can mark yourself “˜safe’ after using the app to alert nearby people,” Humphreys said, “but you can’t delete the initial call for assistance. Everything that takes place is time stamped and cryptographically stamped.”
If necessary, information recorded by the app can be used in court.
“The idea started as a way to stop social injustices,” he said, “by providing a network for blacks, women, the LGBT community where they could call on people to witness what may be happening to them, and it still has that potential. But the educational community quickly became interested.”
Wright said Green Line is currently looking for additional investors to rapidly scale the business.
“The system fulfills a natural human instinct – to have sympathetic people around you when you feel threatened or harassed,” he said.