The purpose of this case study is to determine if using a mobile safety device is an effective response in an emergency. The case study will use a client testimonial from Dalhousie University, a news report on how Wilfrid Laurier University’s mobile safety app, SAFEHawk, was used during the recent BB gun shooting and campus lockdown, as well as a student review of SAFEHawk.
How a student responds to an emergency can be influenced by having a mobile safety app downloaded on their smartphone. The student’s response using their safety app can be an indication of how effective the campus mobile safety app is for both the individual and the emergency responders. The types of responses vary based on the situation at hand, which aligns with the purpose of having multiple safety features on a single application. A user’s involvement in an emergency situation can be seeking help for themselves, or another person.
- Inform campus safety teams and/or police of a user's location at the time of call to send immediate assistance
- Provide students with a way to immediately reach emergency contacts or support resources
- Alert students and faculty members of critical information during emergencies
- Communication between students and response team was reliable and successfully prevented loss of life
- Students were aware of their mobile app’s features and were able to contact the appropriate staff
- Students recognized the benefits of their campus safety app during a period of security alerts which led to increased downloads
Mental Health Emergencies: Using Custom Mobile Safety Apps to Save Lives
When picturing an emergency situation occurring at a university or college, one of the first things that comes to mind are campus shootings. The recent events at Umpqua Community College in Oregon only reinforce this feeling.
However, it’s easy to overlook emergency situations regarding an individual’s mental and emotional state, as they do not always receive the same amount of attention in the media. These types of situations also require immediate intervention and the appropriate trained personnel to assist the individual as soon as possible.
According to Jack.org, an organization that acts as the Canadian national network of young leaders transforming how we think about mental health, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young adults, as it accounts for 24% of deaths among 15-24 year olds1. Looking more closely at Canadian post-secondary students, a 2013 report from the Globe and Mail found that 9.5 percent of students said they had contemplated taking their own life in the past year and that 1.3 percent of students had actually attempted suicide2. AppArmor custom mobile safety apps are, generally speaking, loaded with the school’s mental health resources and emergency contacts, and enabled with click-to-call features that allow the user to get in contact with staff immediately.
A recent incident involving a student at risk due to their mental state demonstrates how both the student and responder were able to utilize the features of their school’s mobile safety app, and protect the life of a student. The situation is recounted by a staff member from one of our partner institutions, Dalhousie University, and explains how the mobile safety app DalSAFE was able to assist both the student in distress and the response team:
“While we were still in the planning stages of DalSAFE, only newly connected to our friends at AppArmor, they sent me a working prototype of the app so we could explore its functionality and practical uses. In short, it was an extreme test drive. We previously discussed, as an essential feature, the ability for DalSAFE users to easily connect to a variety of on-campus and off-campus supports, especially ones that respond to mental health related in the event of a crisis. One particular weekend, I was working as extra duty at an on-campus sporting event and was alerted to a student that was presenting as emotionally distressed. When I talked to her, she disclosed that she made a suicide attempt earlier that day and made it clear that she planned complete later that evening. At the time, I was the only one who had access to DalSAFE app and didn’t have the contact information for the Mobile Crisis Unit otherwise. With just a touch of a button, I got in contact with the police mobile crisis team and they were on scene within minutes attending to the situation. I knew immediately that we had a winning strategy with the app focused on making resources accessible and available… not just for the students but us first responders as well.”
– Jacob MacIsaac, Dalhousie University Security Team
Despite being a prototype, the custom safety app provided the responder with a way to immediately contact the Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team so that they could reach the student. Without the safety app, the responder wouldn’t have been able to contact the Mobile Crisis Unit with the same ease and quickness.
The benefit here is obvious: the custom mobile safety app aggregated the campus-specific safety resources and contacts, which provided the user and responder with a simplified path to assistance. The fact that the student reached out to a support team in an emotionally unstable condition is a powerful statement as well, and shows how users regard the app as a reliable resource.
A custom mobile safety app gives students instant access to mental health resources and contacts, ensuring that students are informed on mental health issues and how to respond to issues with themselves or their peers.
Safety Assurance for Students
The safety app creates a clear medium of communication between the user in distress and the trained responder. Once a user is made aware of the safety app’s features, using the app can become an immediate response to a threatening situation. A user review from Wilfrid Laurier’s custom mobile safety app, SAFEHawk, shows how students consider their mobile safety app as the first option in the case of an emergency and has become integrated into campus life,
“Feeling Safe Ever since the BB Bandit's reign of destruction and harassment began I have been walking down Hickory street with my eyes covered. Now that I have SAFE Hawk installed, I feel like I always have a special constable by my side”.3
The safety app gives students a sense of security and comfort while they are walking around campus. Campus safety is the objective of any mobile safety app, which includes making students feel safe on their campus by knowing that they can receive help at the touch of a button. Moreover, reviews such as this can also act as a deterrent to those who would consider committing a crime on a campus. A significant takeaway from the student review is that it shows that students trust the mobile app to assist them in the case of an emergency.
Mobile App Usage in High-Risk Situations
Following the BB gun incidents at Wilfrid Laurier University in September 2015, as well as the campus lockdowns in October 2015, the University used the safety app’s push notification feature. In the context of the BB gun usage, the feature was used to alert students of areas where the BB gun assailant was last spotted and areas to take caution. The safety app also allows students to report any sightings of the BB gun to campus security, which will alert local police of the location and send in officials to investigate.
As soon as Wilfrid Laurier University was notified of the online threat, the University sent push notifications to students and staff informing them of the campus lockdown. The University continued to use the safety app’s push notification feature to update students and staff throughout the lockdown and when it was lifted. The safety app was an effective method of informing thousands of individuals about a safety threat and keeping everyone away from the area.
This report feature has some previous uses as well. For instance, the use of campus mobile safety apps was demonstrated when students were sent notifications about a stabbing that occurred outside a residence building at the University of Guelph in November 2014. Guelph’s mobile safety app, SAFEGryphon, alerted students of the arrest and that the individual had been placed in custody, clearing the grounds of any threat.4
The app’s push notification feature is recognized by students as an effective way to keep them informed of high risk situations. Students and faculty members receive push notifications that provided real-time updates about the BB gun shootings, informed users of the shooter’s last location and which routes to avoid, as well as links to safety procedures.
Karen Sider, spokesperson for Laurier Special Constable Services, reported that the app saw significantly higher downloads and usage during the time of the BB gun shootings because students were appreciative of the service 5. Further, university spokesperson Lori Chalmers Morrison stated that the app received 2,000 more downloads in the few days during the time of the BB gun shootings. The rapid increase in downloads accounts for 11.8% of the university’s total population - this is very impressive given the app had only been live for a few months. 4
The only obstacle in implementing mobile safety apps for university and college campuses is making students aware of the mobile app’s capabilities. As shown through the SAFEHawk user review from a WLU student, students are highly engaged with the app and the app is considered to be a first response during an emergency. In the Wilfrid Laurier Case, the BB gun disturbance demonstrated to students the effectiveness of having a custom safety app for their campus so that students can receive information through push notifications.
To counter the obstacle of making students aware of the benefits of using a safety app without a real-life emergency, schools should outline the features and uses of the app during their initial marketing push. Examples of how the app’s features and capabilities come into play during an emergency will communicate the value of the mobile safety app.
These real-life safety incidents show how the mobile safety app is able to inform students of incidents pertaining to their personal safety with real-time updates, warn students of high risk geographic areas, and provide students with a very effective way to immediately get in contact with campus security or police.
The effectiveness of using the mobile app as a response to an emergency was demonstrated by the case at Dalhousie University, where a young woman was able to get in touch with Dalhousie Security in an unstable mental state and the responder had the contact information for the Crisis Unit so the individual could receive immediate help. The safety app removed the time it would have taken the student and responder to search for the correct contact information.
IN WLU’s context, using a custom mobile safety app in an emergency situation provides the user with all the necessary resources and tools for their protection. Based on the increase in student downloads at Wilfrid Laurier University, students see the value of the app being a proven first response.
- E. Michasiw (personal communication, October 16, 2015)
- Globe and Mail: Canadian students feel stress, anxiety, have suicidal thoughts, survey reveals
- Google Play: SAFEHawk
- Guelph Mercury: Arrest made in stabbing on University of Guelph campus
- The Record: New app warns students of BB gun incidents around Laurier