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Emergency App Puts a Panic Button in Smartphone Users’ Hands

When Chad Salahshour’s daughter was accepted into the law program at Cleveland State University three years ago, he wanted a way to know she was safe on the campus. Having worked as a technology officer in a local police department for more than 20 years, and having created security apps for law enforcement as well, he knew about measures that could help prevent crime. So he decided to take matters into his own hands and make a campus-specific emergency app for smartphones that students could use to contact the authorities when needed.

Though Mr. Salahshour’s daughter graduated in May, his vision for an app became a reality this week. Cleveland State released the Viking Shield app in partnership with Mr. Salahshour and his company, 911 Cellular, as a free download for both iPhone and Android smartphone users. The app gives students the ability to quickly summon help in an emergency or to report a crime or suspicious activity.

For universities, Mr. Salahshour said, the cost of the app is fluid, depending on the size of the institution and its specific needs. The app for Cleveland State will cost the university $20,000 annually for updates, customization, and services. Case Western Reserve University, also in Cleveland, is also looking to adopt a version of the app for its campus.

Joseph Mosbrook, a spokesman for Cleveland State, said what makes the app stand out is that it uses GPS and Wi-Fi to give a user’s precise location, so the campus police or emergency dispatchers can send help.

When a student or faculty member opens the app, the main screen displays three panic buttons, for calling the police, the fire department, or emergency medical services. When one of the buttons is pressed, the caller can speak with a dispatcher or say nothing, placing the phone in a pocket unnoticed, and the GPS and Wi-Fi (if available) will pinpoint the location.

If the user has filled out the profile in the app—which can include only basic information, like a name and emergency contact number, or more details, like a picture and even blood type—the authorities will know who contacted them for help.

While Cleveland State already has safety measures in place, such as blue-light emergency posts across the campus, Mr. Mosbrook said the app adds another level of security. “It’s like having those blue lights on your phone, in your pocket,” he said.

Another feature of the app, Mr. Salahshour said, is the ability to take photos and videos and send them to dispatchers. Those images can then be relayed to officers who are on their way to the scene or used later in an investigation. “Rather than trying to describe it, this is more accurate,” he said.

Cleveland State enrolls about 12,000 students and is mainly a commuter university, but Mr. Mosbrook said most feedback on the app has come from students in dormitories. Officials don’t have statistics on how many times the app has been downloaded so far, but with campuswide advertising, Mr. Salahshour said the numbers will be high.

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