You’ve seen the stats – about 53% of American cellphone users now have a smartphone. The Apple App Store carries roughly 700K apps with 30 billion downloaded to date. Add to that another 675K apps in the Google Play store with about 15 billion downloaded within just 18 months! That’s a lot of Smart!Due to the broad availability and subsequent consumption of these devices and the apps that run on them, our world is quickly changing in ways unimaginable only a few years ago.
Rapid change applies to the world of personal safety too, where there are no fewer than 40 apps available for download. Looking across all these apps, we see some interesting characteristics. To summarize, consider this “Top Ten” list of the leading capabilities in apps available today:
- Personal collision detection: uses phone’s accelerometer and algorithms to detect a collision
- Community Based Policing: allows posting of suspicious behavior using text, photo, video with ability to receive notifications
- Closest Automated External Defibrillator (AED): provides accessibility, directions and instructions
- Crime Awareness: proactive security feature set to allow users to view emergency responder activity
- Walk with Me: for use in uncomfortable situations where a public safety response is not appropriate (e.g. students crossing campus at night)
- Location services: safe driving feature that automatically detects when a user is driving and disables texting function
- Notifications: mass notifications, such as on campus or notifications to pre-defined contacts in case of emergency
- Safety Concierge Services: weather alerts, nurse lines, poison control, language services
- Personal information: enables pre-registered personal information such as health and emergency contacts
- Text To 9-1-1: the ability to send an emergency text message directly to 9-1-1.
It’s an impressive list of capabilities that pulls the best out of the technology available, yet the implications of this growing segment of personal safety apps are significant. Collectively, they have the opportunity to improve a person’s awareness of activities around them, speed response times in emergencies and enable a more specific response geared towards the situation at hand.
While these are worthy benefits, that old adage of, “the devil is in the details” comes to mind. Apps on the market today range from concepts that are well thought out to those whose descriptions are dangerously misleading. There seem to be significant knowledge gaps between app developers and public safety concerns. Standards, policies and best practices are not yet in place for app development of public and personal safety features. These capabilities may not be supported with the reliability, availability and network resiliency often associated with public safety-related services.
As an industry, we need to bring the best services and features to market leveraging the best of the technology that is being made available, but always be mindful of doing so in way that considers the needs of stakeholders and ultimately ensures the most effective emergency response!
By John Kearney, VP/General Manager of the Mobility Division, Safety Services – West