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Phone app sends distress signal, GPS location, to police with one touch

11:53 PM, Mar 11, 2013   |    comments
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ATHENS, Ga. -- There are smart phone "apps" for practically everything, and now there are apps that may ward off muggers and rapists.

One of the apps works this way -- after downloading the app, activating it and arming it, you put your thumb on the smart phone's screen; if you take your thumb off of the screen you have to enter a private security code, or the app automatically transmits an alarm along with your GPS position, while blaring a loud siren.

"I've done plenty of walks at 4:00 a.m. that are just really scary," said Lindsay Opie, a University of Georgia student, Monday evening in Athens, "and it would make me feel a lot better to have something like that, that's that easy. Because dialing 911 isn't exactly always speedy -- talking to somebody, telling them that you're in trouble. It's perfect, it's absolutely perfect."

Peter Cahill, the CEO of "LifeLine Response" which sells one of the apps, demonstrated Monday how it works.

The user can program the alarm to go off at a particular time -- for example, the user can enter the time when she expects to get home.  If she doesn't get home, the alarm goes off and transmits her phone's GPS location.  Otherwise, she can disarm the app when she gets home safely.

Or the user can use the thumb mode such as when she's walking home. Take the thumb off the phone's screen and she has 20 seconds to disarm it before the app starts its siren and sends the emergency info, including her GPS position, to police.

"We believe that 50 to 55 percent of the attackers will go away when they hear the alarm," Cahill said, "and the other 40 percent to 45 percent will go away when they hear that they've locked onto your GPS position.... This is preventing crime."

The personal alarm apps are being marketed to everyone, men and women, but to college students, in particular.

UGA's police chief, Jimmy Williamson, said Monday that he repeatedly tells students to focus on never putting themselves in dangerous situations in the first place -- to take personal responsibility for their own safety, in order to prevent even being approached by criminals.

Williamson does post links to some of the "Personal Safety Technology" apps on the department's website, without recommending one over another.

"We've actually started telling students, 'take a look at some of the apps out there,'" Williamson said. "We've reviewed a number of the apps, we think they have some benefit.  But it's not the one sure thing to fix all, it's not the silver bullet.... I can't say it enough, that only you, and your personal actions, are going to really make you safe."

Lifeline is a monitoring service. The app sends the alarm from the smart phone to a call center, and then the operator gets the info to police immediately. The app can also send the information to any friends and relatives the user wishes to designate in the set-up portion of the app.

The subscription costs $21.99 a year, but students get a discount of at least 50 percent.

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Links:

LifeLine Response  http://www.llresponse.com/index.html

UGA Police List   http://www.police.uga.edu/personalsafetytechnology.html

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