High-tech life savers: CBS4 puts popular safety apps being used on college campuses to the test

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - You never want to be in a situation where you are all alone and find yourself face to face with an attacker who wants to harm you or steal from you.

CBS4 News tested out a few of the most popular smartphone apps on college campuses around Indianapolis that can help bring you a sense of security in dangerous situations, because sometimes you can't pick up the phone and call for help.

Students travel around college campuses alone on a daily basis. Leaving the library, the classroom, campus activities and of course heading to and from late-night parties off campus in the dark hours of the night, not knowing what danger could be just right around the corner.

“It feels safer on campus than around campus,” said University of Indianapolis sophomore Lexxie Fletcher.

Fletcher is out and about alone regularly. She says one of her biggest concerns are predators lurking around or near campus and worries she will not be able to find help fast enough.

“We have buttons around campus that you can push if you feel that you are in danger and someone will come to you, but how fast are they going to come?” asked Fletcher.

The University of Indianapolis is staffed with a campus police department that's open all day, but some students say they hesitate to call police even in an emergency because they may be drinking underage or do not always think about it in the seconds leading up to an attack. Students are now looking to use something that they believe is simpler and faster.

“College students are much more likely to just use an app rather than call the police. If we have apps that give us access to the immediate calling of the officers or will notify somebody right away then I think that would be really helpful,” said University of Indianapolis senior Vanessa Richardson.

To help find another alternative, CBS4 News chose three smart phone safety apps that we thought offered the widest array of alternatives to get help, some potentially quicker and easier than dialing 911.

The first one is SafeTrek, which costs about $3 per month. The app promises to locate you in just five seconds, without having to tell someone your address. Many 911 systems can take several minutes to find you on a map before being able to respond with help.

The SafeTrek app works by holding down a button on the app and if you let go of it, the application senses that you are in trouble. Then it gives you ten seconds to enter in your pin or the police are called.

“This app is easily accessed, so even if it was in your jacket pocket…you can just grab it and hold the button down,” said Fletcher.

The second app we tested is called PanicGuard and is free to download. The developers say it turns your smart phone into a personal safety device by tracking your location and sending out an alert to specific contacts if you are in danger

. One feature of this app is that it automatically records video of whatever is happening, which could be critical evidence for police.

To activate the alert you can either shake the phone or slide up to activate the application, which notifies emergency contacts of your exact location. The app also automatically starts recording video of the incident and can play a key role in capturing an image of a suspect. That video is then uploaded to a secured system and can be sent to your emergency contacts of police. The big downside however is that the app doesn’t automatically call police.

The third app that we tried out is called Companion. Think of it as your personal GPS which lets your family, friends, and even police know where you are at all times. This app is a good option for parents who are trying to keep track of their younger kids.

Users enter their destination on the app, then select people in your phone book that you want to track your trip. If something happens, you can reach out to your companion or local police department with a tap of your finger.

“I would probably be more likely to use this app than dial 911 because it is easy. You just press a button and then someone will be sent to you, but if you are in a dangerous situation and you have to dial police then you literally have to dial the number and then call. So, this one would be easier, you just hold the button down,” said Fletcher.

However, is any of this better than just dialing police?

“Every student and family has to decide what is best for them,” said Kory Vitangeli, Dean of Students at the University of Indianapolis.

Vitangeli says students who are interested in downloading the safety apps should not count out the convenience and immediacy of calling 911 in an emergency.

“I think that students can accomplish the same goal by using the services that we already have available by using the app,” said Vitangeli.

Both University of Indianapolis and Butler University are working on rolling out apps for their students that help them contact police in a few short taps. The Butler app will be available to students in January and will allow for police response in just one click.

“I think it is a great way, a quick way and a safe way to get police to come to you…a lot quicker,” said Butler University police officer Courtney White.

There are dozens of options from companies offering products claiming to keep you safe, but knowing which is best for you and your family takes research and knowing you’re communities ability to respond to you in case of an emergency.

The Butler app is almost ready to roll out and University of Indianapolis is working with a technology developer to come up with an app that will help with security and safety on campus.

With any device that requires constant GPS tracking, your phone's battery will drain more quickly, possibly leaving you without any way to call for help.

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