Colleges, tech firms joining forces to try to make campus life safer

Colleges and universities are teaming up with technology entrepreneurs in an effort to keep students safe — on and off campus — by using their smartphones.

Mobile apps geared toward campus safety are booming: with a few clicks, text messages will contact friends or social media, employ GPS to pinpoint a location and automatically connect to 911. Many will connect to campus security offices and national emergency hotlines.

Others use countdown timers that will automatically send messages and GPS information if a user is past due at a destination. Some apps use a Bluetooth connection to pair with a panic button that can be carried on a keychain to send a quick alert without the need to fish out a phone from a purse or bag.

And there are apps that can broadcast real-time video and audio to public safety officials. Campus police, for example, might provide a virtual escort by monitoring students as they walk across campus at night.

“Technology-wise, we’ve learned that if we’re going to communicate well with this age group on campus, we’ve got to be able to use the mechanisms they’re addicted to and that they love, and when we do that, we’re more successful in getting the message out about safety,” said Anne P. Glavin, chief of police at Cal State Northridge and past president of the International Assn. of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators.

Campus safety and surrounding-area crime statistics can be an important consideration for students and families making college choices. Fears have been elevated since shooting rampages at Virginia Tech in 2007 and in Isla Vista near the UC Santa Barbara campus in 2014.

And many colleges are under heightened scrutiny after complaints about their reporting and handling of sexual assault cases.

Some experts, such as Glavin, also expressed concern that fast bucks are being made from the fear of crime and that new technologies can provide users a false sense of security.

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