New mobile app could up safety

A student-created service, Usafe, lets users request security monitor escorts with their smartphones.

Vanessa Nyarko

By the end of the month, University of Minnesota students will be able to request a campus security escort on mobile applications or online.

The new service is expected to bolster use of the security escort program by improving access for students with language barriers or deaf students who may have difficulties making a phone call to ask for a safe walk home.

A team of seven University students — six engineering students and one design student — collaborated to create the safety program, called Usafe. It will be accessible online and on Android and iPhone applications.

John Wilson, a sociology senior and program director for the Disabled Student Cultural Center, is deaf and said in an email interview that he often has to rely on others to call 624-WALK if he needs to walk home alone late at night.

Being able to use the Usafe application to request a security escort would make deaf students or students whose first language isn’t English feel safer on campus, he said.

Many deaf students rely on videophones to make calls, he said, but these must be hooked up to a TV, so they can’t be easily transported like a cellphone.

“Having a mobile app on my phone would allow me more independence,” he said. “I would not worry about getting around campus without someone to walk with or looking for someone to call for me.”

The students behind Usafe approached University Services with their idea, said the office’s chief of staff, Leslie Krueger.

She said she found the idea to be innovative and responsible, so she referred them to the Public Safety Emergency Communication Center.

“I really applaud the students for using their skills to seek innovative ways to help their fellow students be safe on campus,” Krueger said.

The emergency communication center helped the students better understand how dispatch works in the University’s security services, Krueger said, which helped the students design their program.

Graphic design senior Matt McVeigh, who worked on Usafe, said that the team put in about two months of work on the project. The group hasn’t asked for money from the University and is prepared to give Usafe to the University, McVeigh said. But the deal isn’t yet finalized, he said, and the school may offer the students some money for their work.

Regardless of whether the group members are compensated, they think students will be more inclined to use an application or go online to request an escort than they are to call, said computer engineering senior Joe Selvik, who worked on the project.

Animal science junior Karissa Huynh said she thinks many students may not be aware of the escort service, or feel like they shouldn’t use it.

“I almost feel I’d be bothersome calling,” she said, “even though it’s a service for us.”