With so many notable stories of crime on college campuses, there’s finally a new way to fight back, and it can be as simple as downloading an app. PhoneFlare, a volunteer run and non-profit enterprise, offers a free app that contacts friends and family when you’re in trouble. At participating universities, it’s also integrated to auto-call college emergency dispatch systems if a student using PhoneFlare is attacked on campus.

Download the app and enter your e-mail address and emergency contacts. When you are walking alone, out for a jog, or worried about your safety, PhoneFlare can be ready. Plug your headphones or a PhoneFlare accessory into your headphone jack or charging port, and then arm your device. If you feel threatened, pull out your headphones like you would yank an emergency cord on a treadmill or signal flare, and help will be coming.

How are your contacts notified? They receive a text with your current position and a disposable link to your GPS coordinates in Google Maps, updating every 10 seconds. If you use a university e-mail address and your campus safety office is in the PhoneFlare database, Michelle Trachtenberg’s voice calls safety dispatch and relays your e-mail address, along with your GPS coordinates.
For more casual use, you can set a check-in time for yourself. If you are unable to report within a pre-determined window, your contacts will be notified. Did you forget? You have a short grace period. When the time comes, your phone will remind you with increasing urgency for five minutes before the emergency alerts are sent.

Lead developer and filmmaker/game developer Christopher Cinq-Mars Jarvis, promises PhoneFlare will be a forever free service. “Overhead costs are paid by charitable contributions with help from generous grants from Google and Twilio,” states Jarvis. PhoneFlare is free and volunteer run under a 501(c)(3) non-profit, Cinq-Mars Media. All costs are paid including server, SMS, and VOIP. PhoneFlare is also open-source on GitHub, so anyone can contribute code to suggest improvements or personalize it for their own use.

Although laws prevent the automated calling of 9-1-1, PhoneFlare servers are able to communicate with your school’s emergency services when a credible threat occurs. Jarvis says, “This helps students to better utilize the dispatch resources they already pay for. Plus, it encourages colleges to better fund these departments and other student safety initiatives.”

PhoneFlare’s goals of reducing rates of sexual assault on university campuses and decreasing emergency response times are enhanced by additional features of the app. During an attack, audio can be recorded and nearby Bluetooth UDIDs logged for use as potential evidence — a way to potentially prove an assailant’s smart device was present at the time and location of the crime. This could make instances easier to prosecute when they do happen, giving victims more confidence to come forward. PhoneFlare allows for the trigger of “silent alarms” using advanced features so victims cannot be coerced into turning off PhoneFlare, or not activating it at all.

Anyone is welcome to use the app. It can be beneficial to parents who want their children to check in with their smartphone at a certain time, or valuable to a senior adult who wants their family contacted if they prove unable to reach a daily check-in on their phone. PhoneFlare teams have begun integration with select retirement community dispatch centers in Florida along with sheriff’s departments who have volunteered. In an emergency, the automated notifications work the same as calls to campus security. PhoneFlare can be downloaded at no cost from the Google Play Store.