Years before cell phones surged in popularity, universities installed calling stations across campuses that directly connected school security with students in unsafe situations in order to quickly provide help. Even today, the University of Texas at Austin has 174 stations to support its 50,000-plus students.
These emergency call boxes, designated by a blue light, remain on many university properties — despite many of them going unused.
A new local startup is looking to increase campus safety by making it easier and more accessible to contact university police and security through an app version of the blue emergency boxes. CampusSafe offers a white-label mobile platform available for all students on campus with a smart phone.
“You don’t need to go to a location to send a report,” said Edmund Buckley, the company's CEO. “Instead of 95 blue lights, now you have as many as your students.”
Eric Irish, a RIT student at the time, designed the app with his classmate in 2013. CampusSafe ended up winning RIT’s Shark Tank competition, which enabled the team to build it out on campus and actually deploy the technology at RIT. Four years later, RIT is still using Irish’s app.
Following graduation, Irish moved to Austin to continue work on the app. Buckley, an established Austin mortgage businessman with a particular interest in safety technology, reached out to Irish once he learned Irish had moved to Austin.
After a three-hour meeting, Irish, Buckley and Buckley’s former colleague Julie Rachui agreed to work together in order to prep CampusSafe for a national market.
"Eric is the creator of the app; he knows all the ends and outs on the technical side," said Buckley. "I have the expertise in building a business, procuring venture capital and getting the product into the broad marketplace. And now we form the team behind CampusSafe."
The team is actively pursuing funding and has about 150 universities and K-12 school districts interested in a partnership. For students, the app is free, and for the university, it’s $1 per user, per semester.
“This really is a technology that will absolutely revolutionize how security is managed on campus,” said Buckley.
The app is customizable and branded for every school. Members of the student body, faculty and staff can press the blue button on the app, call or send an SMS in order to dispatch Public Safety. It’s GPS-enabled to easily locate a distressed caller and offers additional features that blue light boxes can’t offer, Buckley said.
For instance, users can also use the app in non-threatening situations, like if a student is locked out of their car or needs their car jumped. The app can also be programmed to include crime prevention tips, important campus websites and info, and a lost item reporting tool.
"As long as the student or faculty has credentials, when you walk in that geo zone, that app is live,” said Buckley. “You’re in essence replacing or supplementing the blue light telephone poles.”
That second piece is important, given that not all students have smartphones. A backup is still necessary for areas without mobile coverage and in case a mobile device is dead, lost or stolen.
While the focus right now is on K-12 schools and higher ed, Buckley mentioned how CampusSafe could also enhance the safety communication resources at ski resorts, business and medical campuses, neighborhoods and theme parks.
“We feel like this is a significant social value that has a real disruptive force on how campuses can manage with high-tech solutions their safety of their people,” said Buckley. “We’re not trying to just earn money, but we’re also trying to make an impact in our society by enhancing safety to its optimum way of getting the quickest response time to an emergency need and bypassing the whole 911 clutter.”
Images provided by CampusSafe and Shutterstock.