It can be a scary world out there for employees who do their jobs in potentially dangerous situations, such as social workers or mental health agency caseworkers who sometimes see clients in volatile situations in sketchy neighborhoods. Their bosses or co-workers may know they are out there in the field, but they don’t have any way to let them know if a problem has arisen.
That’s where personal safety apps can be helpful, providing some kind of monitoring to enable a user to get help in an emergency through the use of a few keystrokes on the device’s display.
But for enterprise workers who use work-mandated, password-protected smartphones, it can be trickier to use such apps. In an emergency, they don’t have time to enter a password, swipe a screen to activate an app and then report what the problem is at the moment.
A new app for iOS and Android users, however, is looking at this scenario with an eye toward enterprise workers.
SafeSignal, released by emergency communications software vendor AlertMedia on Feb. 18, includes a wristband tether (pictured) that wraps around a user’s wrist. The other end of the tether is plugged into the speaker jack of their smartphone and sets off an alarm in the app when the tether’s plug is pulled out of the phone jack by a wearer in an emergency. The alert goes directly to a SafeSignal 24-hour monitoring center, which immediately notifies local law enforcement agencies wherever the wearer is located.
And through that whole process, the notification is done even if the worker’s smartphone is password-protected, making the emergency declaration instant and seamless, without the need for time-consuming personal intervention by the worker during a time of crisis, according to Brian Cruver, the founder and CEO of AlertMedia.
“They feel safer with this,” said Cruver, who told eWEEK of workers who are using the app and the wrist tether in a wide variety of businesses and agencies around the country. Cruver said he could not name any clients because the companies don’t want to tip off their use of the product to protect their workers. By having the app and tether, employees using the system know that “if I pull this, the police are going to come,” he said.
The app and monitoring keep track of the employee and has their name, their location, the name of the company they work for and other pertinent information that police may need to know if they are called in an emergency, he said. Once the tether is pulled out of the phone jack, an audible alarm and verbal warning also are activated in the user’s smartphone to advise attackers that the police have been called and are on their way.
SafeSignal is built for enterprises and is being used by companies that pay about $3 for each user per month for some 500 to 1,000 employees at a time. Some companies are using it with as many as 8,000 users, he said.
“We’re with them and we’re accompanying them into that dangerous situation,” said Cruver. “They can now do their jobs with confidence, knowing that our monitoring team and law enforcement is essentially by their side, making sure they are safe.”
Other enterprise-aimed apps offer similar protections, including Guardly, which can send a silent emergency alert to corporate safety officials to get help from police.
A wide variety of consumer-based personal safety apps also are on the market, including bSafe, which lets users alert friends when they get home late at night so they know they arrived safely; and variants such as React Mobile and Red Panic Button, which provide tracking and alerts to friends. Other apps are aimed specifically at college campus safety.
For Workers in Danger, Personal Safety Apps Abound
A Broadening Potential Market
Several analysts told eWEEK that the personal safety app industry is just beginning to get started and could certainly gain a toehold in the enterprise to protect at-risk workers.
“I would strongly encourage employers to consider these types of apps for use with employees who might find themselves in sticky situations from time to time,” Dan Olds, principal analyst of Gabriel Consulting Group, wrote in an email reply to an inquiry. “The cost looks to be relatively modest and competition will drive prices down even further. It’s also interesting to consider the ramifications of an employer who knows that these applications are available, decides NOT to use them, and then has tragedy strike where an employee is killed or injured in an incident that might have been avoided if the device had been used.”
Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, said IBM Research is developing a similar product called WorkRight/Live that uses a smartphone and wearable sensors to track environmental factors affecting workers as well as detecting falls and other potential emergencies.
“Concerns about personal safety are, unfortunately, commonplace for many people so it’s natural that app developers would focus their attention on the space,” wrote King. At the same time, wrote King, not every worker needs such apps.
“There are certainly situations and jobs where offering an extra layer of safety monitoring would be a good thing. But there also seems to be a lot of free floating anxiety in the air these days resulting in a general fearfulness among people who really have very little to worry about,” he wrote.
Another analyst, Rob Enderle, principal of Enderle Group, wrote in an email reply to eWEEK that he has “argued for things like this ever since I got mugged in front of my own home and was unable to get my camera working in time because of the password [requirement].”
Such apps for people are like the On-Star emergency notification system for vehicles, wrote Enderle. “I think this is a critical area to explore because, particularly for older employees and those in dangerous jobs, they may not be able to put in a password, or by the time they do it, they’ll be dead.”
Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, agrees. “This is a great idea. It leverages all of the sensors and radios inside the phone and has a trigger mechanism that makes good sense,” he wrote. “It could be better as time goes on and the tech gets better. If the user is in the building, there is no good way to know exactly where the user is in the building. This will get better as soon as geo-location gets better with barometric sensors and in-building mapping with tech like Google Tango and Intel RealSense.”
In addition, such apps could eventually be extended to tracking users through wearables, smart clothing and implants in the future, wrote Moorhead.