The University of Maryland, College Park will launch a new smartphone application next week that places campus safety in students’ hands.
With the tap of a button, students using an Android smartphone will be able to connect with University of Maryland Police while on campus.
The new application, known as M-Urgency, uses the phone’s camera to stream live video and audio of an incident to police dispatch and the laptop of an officer’s squad car.
The student taps the red “help” box and the phone instantly begins streaming video and audio to University Police dispatch. Photo from the MIND Lab.
Officers can respond to the incident using the phone’s GPS system, which pinpoints the caller on a Google map within 10-feet of their actual location.
"I tell students and parents that it’s smarter to carry a smart phone than it is to carry a gun,” said Ashok Agrawala, director of the University of Maryland’s MIND Lab.
This is the first smartphone application of its kind to be used at a university for student safety, said Agrawala. And developers say they are working to expand the program to iPhone users and off-campus locations.
The view from police dispatch. The software pinpoints the emergency on a Google map, and the video and audio stream live. Photo from the MIND Lab.
Earlier this month, University Police presented the technology to College Park’s City Council in hopes of securing an additional $100,000 in funding for the program, but the council and College Park’s mayor informally turned down that plan during an Aug. 9 work session due to program costs.
"We heard an initial cost estimate, and there may be more dialogue between what the university would be providing,” said College Park Mayor Andrew Fellows. “If it is $100,000, I think it’s safe to say, ‘no’ we can’t do that, but if there’s some other discussion it might be possible.”
In addition to expanding the program off-campus, Agrawala said there is interest from several other colleges and universities. And, there are plans to make the application available to all thirteen colleges and universities within the University of Maryland system.
The MIND lab partners with private businesses and government agencies to build information technology systems and is currently working with an Annapolis-based company, TeleCommunication Systems, Inc., to develop text message and video emergency messaging as part of a national Next Generation 911 system.
"The University of Maryland in this case will serve as a national model,” said Agrawala. “Others will likely take notice.”
The lab worked with the University’s Department of Public Safety to ensure that police officers are prepared to use the new technology.
A student with special needs can also add information to their phone’s application, which will tell officers if it’s a person with high risk needs or a specific medical condition.
"I think it’s a good idea, but sometimes a cell phone video or photo can exaggerate what actually happened,” said Jose Arevalo, an undergraduate student at the University of Maryland.
Arevalo said he thinks many students on-campus will use the application, but also worried about some of the application’s privacy issues.
"If it’s used the right way, then it can help, but if the videos get saved, people may try to YouTube them,” he said.
Privacy concerns have been a primary issue Agrawala said. But, he thinks that students will first-and-foremost see the advantages of safety.
"The effect that this application will have will make criminals think twice before coming to campus,” he said. “We are giving so many more eyes and ears to the police department.”