Wash. U. campus safety app nears beta launch but misses move-in deadline
While its campus-wide release may come several weeks later than anticipated, Washington University officials are confident that a new campus safety app will keep students and staff better informed and prepared for emergencies.
The Washington University Police Department hoped the app would be available for students at the beginning of the semester. But the University’s process for approving new mobile apps takes four-six weeks on top of the time it takes to develop the app and troubleshoot issues.
When ultimately released, the app, which developers say will enter beta testing within about a week, will offer students, faculty and staff a convenient and streamlined way to access campus safety tips, find emergency numbers and receive campus crime alerts.
It will not replace the currently existing WUSTLAlerts system, though there may be some overlap in functions.
“It’s got a lot of different utilities, and it’s one of those things we envision as the baseline building block, and once we get it out, we can build upon it to add some additional utility,” WUPD Chief Don Strom said. “It’s been a lot of people working on this behind the scenes for a long time.”
To create the app, WUPD has been working with Campus Sentinel, a business launched earlier this year that has developed campus safety apps for schools ranging from Washington University in St. Louis to Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania and the University of Vermont.
Because the company is relatively new, Campus Sentinel isn’t sure exactly what the market is for such apps, but Gary Margolis, the company’s founder and co-president, said colleges are the perfect locations for the technology because they are so well-connected. He hopes that the application will allow campus police departments to distribute information more easily.
“There’s a lot of information that public safety [officials] at colleges and universities want to share,” Margolis told Student Life. “Sometimes the barrier to access is ease of access.”
When the app is finally released in the App Store and Google Play, it will join a half-dozen University apps including the WUSTL Dining app and the WUSTL Circulator app, which a senior computer science major developed in the spring of 2013.
Later this semester, Student Technology Services intends to release a unified mobile app that will integrate several apps currently available in addition to University news and a campus events calendar.
John Bailey, assistant director of STS, said apps are valuable both to the University community they are geared at and to student developers who are able to gain marketable coding experience. He said the University’s unified mobile app will use a framework specifically chosen to avoid inhibiting future student programmers.
“We want to make sure that there are still processes that students can continue to come out with new apps,” Bailey said. “I do expect that there will continue to be new ideas.”