For college students, the mobile phone is potentially more potent than mace when it comes to personal safety. It’s certainly more ubiquitous at least, which is why Rave Wireless is approaching college-campus safety at the mobile-phone level with the help of wireless operators and universities across the country.
Chief Strategy Officer Raju Rishi co-founded Rave Wireless in 2004 to bridge the communication digital divide separating the administration and students of most universities. While nearly every student was already carrying a mobile phone at the time, universities were still relying on voicemails to landlines to communicate to their students. When PBXs became nearly obsolete, email became the next communication mode of choice, but Rishi said they found that most students rarely read university emails either — or else siphoned them into a seldom-viewed mailbox. Likewise, expensive university Web sites were not successful for communicating critical information in real time.
“We had the notion of creating a set of applications that sit on mobile phones that allow universities to communicate better,” Rishi said. “We built a host of products – a few in academic areas, many in safety, but after Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois occurred, it became clear that the first step in a mobile solution was really in the safety arena.”
The company now works with universities across the US, including Howard University in Washington DC, Colorado State University, Chicago State University and more than 150 others that have already deployed or plan to roll out Rave technology soon. In the area of public safety, Rave provides two main products. The first is Rave Alert, a notification engine that lets the college or enterprise notify large numbers of subscribers about an emergency or update requiring immediate action. The broadcast messaging solution can go to any device and, through a partnership with Sybase 365, can come in the form of SMS or MMS messages, RSS feeds, email, Twitter or Facebook messages.
The second product, Rave Guardian, is a GPS-enabled mobile safety product focused on personal safety rather than mass communication. Guardian is trigged by a one-touch panic button on the cell phone that immediately connects the user to emergency services. Matt Serra, director of product management for Rave Guardian, said that while there are already several ways for leadership within a community to communicate downwards to their constituents, including Rave Alert and the FCC’s Commercial Mobile Alert System program, this flips the equation. It’s designed for the safety of the broader community to communicate back up to their leadership to indicate their need for assistance.
“It augments the capabilities that anyone experiences today when they call into the public safety organization of their community,” Serra said. “The proactive feature is the precautionary timer feature; a virtual safe walk.” The user can activate this precautionary timer on his or her cell phone before they walk across campus late at night, for example. The user deactivates the alarm when they arrive at their destination, otherwise, when the timer expires, campus security is notified and will call to check in on the user’s whereabouts and well being.
Users can also provide additional information or state concerns by recording a voice message as they start the timer. For example, a student about to walk across campus can indicate their location, route and their final destination. They might also choose to include whom they are visiting, what they are wearing or concerns they might have, Serra said.
The software, hosted by Rave Wireless, provides a Web-based console that can run on existing dispatch monitors in the background until it’s triggered. When a student, faculty member or staff member does call into campus security, an audible alarm sounds and the entirety of the individual’s information is pulled up either on the campus police’s PC or a more limited version on any Windows Mobile device. Guardian automatically pulls up the user’s picture, mobile phone number, GPS location and the breadth of personal information that the individual has provided the campus with.
Rave partners with wireless operators, including Sprint, AT&T and Verizon, to procure location data, which it aggregates from users’ self-reported location via voice recording to the most accurate, multi-satellite GPS fix. The Guardian service can automatically detect which method is the most accurate for every active case, Rishi said. In addition to Rave’s technology relationship with carriers to access location data, he said Rave also has a distribution relationship in which the carriers actively pitch the technology to their clients.
“It is very low cost and fast to deploy in particular when compared to other options like Relay phones, expanding video surveillance or infrastructure things that require build out and construction,” Serra added. “This is a quick and immediate impact on safety within the organization. When it comes to operating it over time, all our clients find that this is integrated very seamlessly with existing processes…It’s a tool that can decrease workload as opposed to being one more thing to deal with.”