Jan. 30, 2014

New smartphone app helps keep students safe

smartphone app
Joe Wilensky/Cornell Chronicle
A free smartphone app, ResCUer, aims to keep students safe by connecting users to police, taxis and friends.

Five Cornell undergrads have given the campus community an easy way to stay safe.

Their free smartphone app, ResCUer, connects users to police, taxis, friends and other safety resources with just a few taps on their smartphones.

“We realized that Cornell offers so many services to keep students safe, but often students do not know how to connect to these services or have the phone number for them,” said Matthew Laks ’15.

“We realized that a smartphone app could condense information about emergency services as well as make that information easily accessible, since college students are rarely not within arm’s reach of their phones,” added Emma Court ’15.

Laks, Court, Matt Joe ’14 and app programmer Joshua Krongelb ’15 came up with the idea in fall 2012 during CU Collaborate, an event created by a student organization of the same name that challenged the Cornell community to come up with ideas to help everyone on campus. Several reports of sexual assaults and other emergencies prompted the team to conceive of ResCUer, Laks said. “We thought if we could save one life with this app, it would be worth it,” he said.

The app is designed to be simple to use. After it launches, two buttons appear: “Get Help” and “Go Home.” Tapping “Get Help” calls up buttons for Cornell’s emergency medical service and police, Gannett Health Services, the resident adviser on call at any campus dorm and Blue Light service. A tap on any of those buttons makes an automatic call to that service. “Go Home” calls up buttons for taxis serving the Cornell campus, Ithaca and the surrounding area; the Blue Light service; or a map with a route home. The “Go Home” button also includes a feature through which the user can add phone numbers of four trusted friends.

The students have submitted ResCUer for inclusion on AppComm, an online collection of mobile apps where public safety and emergency responders, the general public and app developers will be able to evaluate, rate and comment on ResCUer. AppComm is hosted by APCO International, the world’s largest public safety communications association.

“Everyone should have a portfolio of tools in their plan for how to stay safe, and there are mobile apps, like this one, that can help,” said Cornell University Police Department (CUPD) Chief Kathy Zoner.

The team has many ideas of ways to improve the app, but for now their goal is to distribute it as widely as possible. Anisha Chopra ’13, former chair of the Student Assembly’s (SA) Safety Task Force, who later joined the team as SA representative and community outreach liaison, worked during the 2012-13 academic year with the university administration to have the app distributed at January 2013 Orientation. She introduced the app to several organizations on campus and asked administrators at University Communications, Gannett Health Services and CUPD to share the app via their networks. The SA has urged students to download the app via its monthly email to undergraduates and its website and Facebook page. The SA plans to distribute information to SA-funded student organizations geared toward personal health and safety awareness, said Court, who is now leading communications about the app.

While the team’s main concern is safety at Cornell, they hope to expand the app to other college campuses, Court said. “The problem of student safety at night is not endemic to Cornell alone, and ResCUer can help other college students continue to work hard and stay safe,” she said.

The iOS version of the app is available at the iTunes app store. An Android version is also available.