University Police release new safety alert app for UB community

Guardian app uses UPD chat feature, serves as mobile warning system

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If students, faculty or staff sense danger, they can connect with University Police with just a tap on their phone from now on. 

On Friday, UPD launched a new safety and emergency app, UB Guardian (Rave Guardian). The Guardian app will send the UB community alerts and warnings directly to smartphones, and also allows students to contact police via a chat box. Students, faculty and staff can download the app through the App Store or Google Play. UB community members can sign up for the app’s services through their UB email accounts.

The app is an integration of the alert system UB currently has in place with the same company, Rave. 

Students can use UB Guardian to place a direct call to UPD in the case of an emergency. The app also has a text or chat feature for more non-emergency purposes. 

“What we see this as being particularly useful for is not exactly emergency communications because it’s always better to call us directly when that happens,” said UPD Deputy Chief Joshua Sticht. “But we see this [for] somebody [who] has just a general question or wants to submit information that’s not an emergency.” 

If a student is in a car accident, for example, they can send a photo of the accident damage to UPD dispatchers. They can also choose to tag their location with the photo, so UPD can find the scene of the crash easier.

Sticht said he hopes the app provides a more efficient and accessible means of communication for students — especially non-native English-speaking students.

“We know that a lot of international students here are more comfortable with written English rather than spoken English,” Sticht said. “We do get a lot of emails now on our general UB email address, but that’s not monitored in real time, whereas this will be.” 

Besides the chat, another key feature of UB Guardian is a safety timer. The timer allows users to temporarily share their location with a family member or friend, but not the UPD. 

The safety timer functions in the same way as an Uber app allows passengers to share their ride’s status and location. 

“I think this is the most important element that students wanted that several universities, like SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Stony Brook, already have in place [with their safety apps],” Sticht said. 

For example, if a student is walking to their car or dorm late at night on campus, they can send a link for a contact to track them for a set amount of time. They can then notify their contact when they arrive to a location, but if something goes wrong along the way, they can call the contact or UPD. 

The app is for students, faculty and staff, but UPD customized its features with students in mind. 

UB Guardian includes resources students may need other than the police, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, UB Counseling Services and Student Health Services.

“A lot of people might want to talk to another confidential source before contacting police, so we have other resources [on the app],” Sticht said. “We tried to pick resources for students or faculty — but they’re mostly geared toward students, in an emergency.”

There are also a number of links for anonymous report forms via the app. These links include UPD’s anonymous sexual assault report form and silent witness report form. The latter is for students who want to submit anonymous tips to UPD.

The idea to adopt a mobile app communication platform came from a conversation The Spectrum had with UB President Satish K. Tripathi last year, according to UPD. 

“We consistently look at our notification system and think of ways to improve it. The app was something we were kind of considering and to tell you the truth, the way this came about is when President Tripathi did an interview with [The Spectrum],” said Jay Roorbach, Senior Emergency Planning Coordinator. “The president came down [to us] and said ‘let’s up that in importance.’”

The app is meant to coincide with UB’s current emergency and blue light systems, according to UPD. If a student calls in to report an incident, UPD dispatchers can use their location to find the nearest blue light station. Each station has a surveillance camera, so dispatchers can attempt to monitor the situation in real time.

The Spectrum asked two students to download and try the app. Both said the app could be worthwhile to them. 

“I do have a car, and I think it would be really useful if I were to get into an accident,” said Zitan Chai, a senior communication major. “And the share my location feature is also useful because I am an international student with parents who are concerned over my safety.”

Others such as Wenchao Lou, a senior media studies major, also noted the app’s practicality.

“I think I will keep [the app] on my phone, because who knows what will happen,” Lou said.

Isabella Nurt is a staff writer and can be reached at features@ubspectrum.com.