The University of Virginia first began testing a new safety app in 2017, and formally rolled it out to all students this summer.
LiveSafe, a mobile emergency alert system, allows students, faculty and staff to report suspicious behavior and safety hazards on- and off-Grounds and to communicate with a police officer via text message. If something is reported, the app sends notifications to users in affected locations. The app is just one of many changes and upgrades the university has implemented since the white supremacist rallies in 2017.
“Technology is the way to go as we look at enhancing safety,” said Gloria Graham, UVa’s associate vice president of safety and security. “The app is like having an emergency blue light phone in your pocket.”
Students requested additional ways to warn police of suspicious or potentially violent activity in the aftermath of the torch march on UVa’s Lawn in August 2017, and UVa began testing the app in 2018. It recently signed a three-year contract with LiveSafe, which was co-founded in 2012 by a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre. UVa will pay the company $42,000 annually for its services, according to university spokesman Wes Hester.
The app can be downloaded by anyone — even if they are not a student or employee of UVa — and used anywhere.
And while UVa officials’ criteria for sending out safety alerts remains the same, Graham noted that UVa officials also will be able to send community alerts to users in different locations as needed — if, say, students studying abroad in Asia need to be aware of a tsunami warning, or users near Scott Stadium need to be aware of game day traffic.
It also makes it easier to report non-emergencies, such as car burglaries or vandalism, with the tap of a finger and the snap of a photo, without calling a dispatcher.
The LiveSafe app contains information about safety resources and a link to UVa’s Just Report It feature for harassment and civil rights complaints. It also has a SafeWalk feature so students traveling late at night can pick an emergency contact, and then alert that friend when they have arrived safely at their destination.
Graham noted that while LiveSafe’s Report a Tip feature allows users to anonymously discuss a safety complaint with a police officer, the SafeWalk feature doesn’t require users to interact with a police officer if they do not wish to do so.
“Instead of previous programs, where you could call an officer to escort you to your car, technology has evolved so that you can pick someone you might feel more comfortable with,” she said.
Graham said that since the app’s official launch in June, SafeWalk has been used 270 times. University police have received five tips about suspicious activity in that time period.
LiveSafe is just one of a suite of safety and security upgrades UVa has made since 2017; changes include rewriting the university’s free speech and assembly policy, adding security cameras, increasing officers and using social media monitoring.
According to UVa’s most recent annual safety report, reported incidents of robbery, dating violence and stalking, drug abuse and illegal weapons violations increased from 2016 to 2017. A new report with information about 2018 incidents reported to university police will be released in October.