The decision to implement a student safety app in any campus environment is not to be taken lightly. There are a plethora of safety app options available, which makes legitimate and fair evaluation difficult. There’s also the challenge of imagining how a specific app will perform in your unique school environment. Maybe you have a large, sprawling main campus with several satellite campuses in different parts of the country. Or maybe you’re a small high school with a limited security team. Either way, you need to make sure that your chosen student safety app can thrive in your environment to keep community members safe.
So what do you do to make sure this is the case? How do you choose an effective safety app for years to come?
Step one… educate yourself.
It may seem obvious, but there’s a lot of information out there to sift through. Let’s package up this information into digestible, organized pieces so you can understand just what a student safety app is supposed to look like and how it can be applied to your specific environment effectively.
First we’ll look at what a student safety app has to offer and what features are most popular (and most useful).
The core of the student safety app is often the ability to signal for help in the form of a panic button. Some apps will allow you to disable this feature, but most school environments find some utility in a panic button being available for every student, staff and faculty member to use on their smartphones.
The benefit would be the ability to contact safety forces directly (911, your security team or your custom group) without students needing to remember direct phone numbers. Additionally, there is potential for more information to be sent than if a student were to simply dial 911 or your direct security line. Student safety apps may simply open up a direct line, but the apps which prioritize panic button usefulness will also likely send information such as location and physical description.
There is an additional aspect of the panic button that many safety apps unfortunately ignore. A panic button widget that can be accessed and activated from the user’s lock screen. This is a huge factor when considering practical use-cases for a safety app panic button.
When in an emergency situation, it would be a cumbersome mental task to remember where the safety app is within your sea of other apps. It’s also an additional step to open the app before you’re able to press the panic button, adding precious seconds to what could be a time-sensitive, life-or-death scenario.
Anonymous tip sending is an integral part of any legitimate student safety app. This is perhaps the most popular and widely used feature by students within the safety app feature set… and with good reason. Tip submission has become an effective way for community members to self-police by giving a ‘heads up’ to nearby safety forces (or other authorities). This sentiment reaches far beyond college campuses and school grounds though…
The ‘See Something, Say Something’ movement has been a major part of anti-terrorism advertising and popular culture since the early 2000s. It wasn’t until the invention of smartphones, and subsequently safety apps, that the movement’s mission became so personally accessible. It has since extended beyond anti-terrorism to include anti-crime in general. Many campus environments and school districts promote “If you see something, say something” or a similar phrase. Because of this, almost all student safety apps will provide a tip submission feature.
Tip submission can take many forms, but some of the more advanced features can include category selection (tips sent to different departments depending on what type of tip it is), media attachments, and chat capabilities.
You’ll almost always see tip submission paired with anonymous sending capability in any student safety app. This is because students are hesitant to send their identifiable information to authorities, even if they are not likely to be held liable for anything or followed up with. Teenagers and young adults are very sensitive to how they’re perceived among their peers, they don’t want to be the one to kill the party or tell on their friends. Anonymous tip submission allows students the freedom to send crucial tips about safety to authorities without them being able to identify who sent the tip.
Two-way chat capabilities are less commonly found in student safety apps but add an extra layer of information gathering for security forces without revealing the identity of the tip submitter.
Emergency resource center
Resource centers within student safety apps are becoming more popular than they were years ago. There are companies that specialize in resource management alone, but now safety app providers are giving similar functionality implemented directly within their student safety app’s interface.
This convenient organizational feature gives campus and school authorities the ability to provide always up-to-date files and URLs containing institutional procedures and other safety related protocols.
Not long ago, schools would print out mega-packets that contained all of this information (likely to get thrown in the trash anyway). Now students can simply open an app and see the relevant information within seconds, wherever they happen to be at the time.
Safety maps are interactive maps that can be configured on the backend (usually a web-based configuration portal) so that security forces can drop pins representing important locations in their campus or school environment. The map itself is easily accessible from the safety app’s interface so students and other community members can seamlessly navigate their campus or school environment and locate key areas.
There’s really no limit to how specific your safety map can be. A common practice is to label the location of weather shelters, defibrillators, fire extinguishers and other areas where security or medical assistance can be obtained.
Safety timers are included within most student safety apps available. The details of the timer’s function can vary widely, but most allow app users to designate emergency contacts and notify them when the app user is performing an activity alone (usually an activity that warrants monitoring of their safety). Most safety timer features will send location information to emergency contacts so they can monitor the app user’s position.
Perhaps just as important as the feature set itself, safety app customization is vital for student safety apps because brand recognition is an important factor in trust and repeated usage.
For colleges specifically, branding is extremely important to enhancing the campus experience. A custom branded safety app is far more likely to achieve higher download and usage statistics than a generic looking app.
Let’s look at three common customization elements that your student safety app should provide…
Some safety app vendors allow you to create your own icon, while others force you to use their generic one. The app icon is very important because it’s how end-users will identify your app when they’re trying to use it (potential emergency situation where time is crucial). Generally speaking, if your campus or school has a strong brand identity that resonates with your community, you will benefit greatly from having the ability to create your own app icon.
The app’s name is important in exactly the same way as the icon. If a custom icon resonates with your community, so will the app’s name. Again, some vendors allow you to customize this, others do not.
App Store and Google Play listing
In some cases, vendors will allow you to control the content displayed on the app store listings. This content matters because it’s how potential app users will judge whether or not they want to download your app. If you have the opportunity to control this content, you should consider doing so, as it can be the difference between having a user or not.
Initial and sustained awareness
For higher education institutions, the often overlooked aspect of student safety app success is the marketing stage. Pre-launch and post-launch marketing efforts are extremely important to get your students engaged with your safety app long-term. It takes a variety of people and workflows to be able to maintain an effective safety app program… but fortunately the process can be organized and simplified.
Welcome week and orientation are the perfect time to kick-off a successful app launch campaign. Timing is everything, and during this time of the college experience you’ll have the attention of your newest campus dwellers. Often a presentation or video is the main event, but supplemental, sustained marketing practices will go a long way in helping your students remember just how important this app is.
These supplemental practices can include: handing out flyers, putting up posters and signs, and giving away freebies with the app’s name and logo on it.
Before welcome week is even on the horizon, there’s some prep work that can be done to improve the chances of your student safety app sticking. One of the most effective methods that I’ve seen (with a relatively low workload), is to implement your campus safety app within your existing college app (if you have one).
Most students are going to be frequently opening your college app for a variety of daily activities. When they do so, if they see the campus safety app’s icon and redirect link right in front of them, they’re very likely to click into it.
After welcome week is over, your safety app user data may look promising, but there are additional, sustained efforts that will be required in order to maintain a highly-used app long term.
To learn more about continued engagement with your student safety app, download our FREE eBook on why student engagement matters.
Evaluate like a pro
Student safety app evaluation can be a tall task for those not familiar with what safety apps have to offer, but armed with enough pertinent information, anyone can evaluate student safety apps like a pro.
Download our FREE eBook on how to evaluate safety apps like a pro.
Campus safety information
Want to learn more about campus safety? We have the resources to get you informed and prepared. Visit our campus safety page to find out more.