Valerie, a student from Singapore arriving into Mumbai way past midnight needed to get from the international airport to her apartment. Not wanting to disturb anyone she decided to brave the forty-five minute cab-ride alone. As a precaution she discreetly clicked a picture of the registration number and put it up on Pinterest. In conversation, she asked the driver his name and emailed it to her friend to use in case of an emergency.
Across the border, a woman named Petra enabled the SOS – Stay Safe! application on her Android device so she could easily send a notification to her parents in case she needed to. All she had to do was shake the phone and her GPS coordinates would automatically be detected and sent to her emergency contacts.
Another application Bipper available for iOS devices, requires the user to press a huge red button on the screen to make a loud noise and call for help. Studies show that raising an alarm to alert passers-by typically discourages the assailant and in many cases deters the crime. This kind of application is especially useful for empowering senior citizens and preventing petty crimes.
There are atleast a handful of mobile applications that help enhance personal safety. Some are effective, others not completely. But the question remains, does access to mobile phones and innovative applications make the world a safer place? Like any technology, it will really only become useful if it can be used easily and is readily available the moment you need it.
What happens if it is difficult to launch the application and press a specific button in the middle of a crisis? SOS – Stay Safe! works around this one nicely and allows the user to merely shake the device or a purse or bag that has the device in it. This application merely expects intuitive vigorous shaking as is typical when in panic.
While some users feel safer with devices that make loud noises, others feel that discreet calls for help might be more useful. In truth, it depends on the situation. If you can run away while sounding an alert, it is unlikely that the attacker will come after you. However, if you are in a moving car then being able to send discreet GPS notifications is a huge advantage. SOS Stay Safe automatically sends location and battery level indicators at pre-defined intervals.
While it is important to keep the application simple and easy to use, activists hope that over time situational intelligence can be built into these applications. What happens if your contact is notified but can’t get to you on time for example?
The developers of SOS Stay Safe are considering a new feature that allows notifications to be sent to other registered users that are detected within a few kilometers radius of your location. This will let a larger circle of help get there faster, in case your own emergency contacts are not close by.
One thing is certain, even as technology evolves and new mobile applications are built, it helps to minimize risk factors and be alert to preventive measure such as detecting body language, staying in groups and being alert to covert movements of strangers.
The ultimate aim of technology in saving lives is enable people to ‘detect and evade’ rather than ‘alert and be rescued’ from a nasty situation. SOS – Stay Safe! is a brilliant app that serves this purpose and is a must-have application for your smartphone. And it can’t hurt to brush up on your martial arts skills on the side.