App makes uni a safer place

A new smartphone app at the University of Wollongong will ensure a faster response from security. Photo: ANDY ZAKELI
A new smartphone app at the University of Wollongong will ensure a faster response from security. Photo: ANDY ZAKELI

University of Wollongong students can have security in the palm of their hands thanks to an innovative new smartphone app.

The university's 35,000 students and staff have been encouraged to download the SafeZone app free as part of a pilot program which went live at the Wollongong campus this week.

Technology developed by Wollongong-based company Critical Arc transforms smartphones into personal sensors enabling security personnel to pinpoint the caller's exact location.

Critical Arc chief executive Glenn Farrant said the app was a world first and was attracting interest from 10 other Australian universities looking to adopt it for the 2013 academic year.

"It's a revolutionary service and puts the University of Wollongong at the forefront of security response capability," he said. "It allows the university to offer students and staff some peace of mind, knowing that if an incident does occur then they have a simple, convenient and effective way to get help fast."

Once a user presses the help button, the security team is alerted to their location via a map on their own smartphone or iPad. They get basic details about the caller - such as their name and phone number - and can also see the location of all the security officers so they can co-ordinate the best possible response.

"Previously, students and staff would have had to remember the security number to call, then they would have had to talk to an operator, who would then contact the security team, who in turn would have to work out which security officer was closest via radio communication, and then they would respond," Mr Farrant said. "This technology allows callers to get connected straight to security who can respond more efficiently and effectively."

The app works within an identified zone - in this case that includes the Keiraville campus, TAFE pathways frequently used by students, as well as streets to the south as far as Murphys Avenue.

Mr Farrant said it would also help combat issues associated with unclear or misunderstood directions.

"It's really useful for new students who are unfamiliar with the environment of the uni, and it's also great for international students who may not be able to communicate very clearly with security," he said.

And students and staff should not be concerned about the "big brother" effect - Mr Farrant assured users that security would not be able to "track" them unless they called for help, and their location and personal information was not shared.

The main functions on the app are a "duress alarm" for critical situations, plus "help" and "first aid" buttons.

Already 400 people have signed up, including computer science student Brennan Hatton, 19.

"It's really convenient as you don't have to remember security's number and you don't get mixed up as to who to call when you feel unsafe or need medical attention," he said.

Mr Farrant said if the pilot was successful, SafeZone would become a permanent service at UOW next year.