Michael Wenye Li / Sun Photography Editor

The new Blue Light on Ho Plaza, part of Cornell Police's efforts to increase campus safety.

March 18, 2018

New App to Turn Cornellians’ Phones Into ‘Personal Safety Device’

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As crimes and sexual assault continue to rock the campus, Cornell introduced a mobile application called Rave Guardian on Friday, in which students and employees can request virtual guardians to track their location and anonymously submit suspicious activities to campus police.

The mobile safety app arrives to campus as Cornell grapples with two separate assaults in Collegetown last weekend: a female Cornell student was sexually assaulted in Collegetown on Sunday night as she tried to get into her home and three male students were assaulted on Saturday morning — one of whom said he was harassed using racial epithets.

Additionally, FBI agents and local police found 300 rounds of ammunition, an AR-15 and bomb-making materials inside a former student’s studio apartment in Collegetown Plaza during a March 7 raid. Police arrested the former student, Maximilien R. Reynolds ’19, who if convicted faces up to 40 years in prison.

In the midst of these incidents, Rave Guardian will act as a free mobile emergency Blue Light system that turns a user’s smartphone into a “personal safety device,” the University told students in an email. Rave Guardian users can create safety sessions during which their selected guardians — friends, family, or the Cornell University Police, for instance — can view their status and location in an emergency situation.

“Cornell University Police officers and staff take a lot of pride in our many connections to the Cornell community,” David Honan, deputy chief of CUPD, told The Sun. “Any additional connection we can make that helps keep the community safe is an immense help.”

Cornell previously installed a new variant of the Blue Light phone station in front of Ho Plaza in February, which replaced one of the 950 emergency phones on campus.

App users build a profile that includes any personal and medical information they choose to share with designated responders. The users can then deliver crime tips and chat in real-time with campus safety officials, or select those officials to be their guardian, according to the app description.

Cornell Police can also access a user’s personal profile information if the user makes an emergency call, sends a tip or if CUPD is a selected guardian.

“We hope that the RAVE Guardian app is one additional option among many offered by the University for faculty, staff and students to use to keep themselves safe and get help quickly if they ever need it,” Honan said.

Eri Kato ’20 called the Rave Guardian a more advanced version of the iOS location sharing app Find My Friends, and said that the app will prove useful on a campus where getting home safely at night is a “challenge” for students who cannot afford transportation services like taxis or Ubers.

“Most of my sisters and friends in other sororities live in deep North [Campus] where roads can get dark and scary at night,” she told The Sun. “The University notifies us of dangerous situations very quickly via email, which makes me feel safe.”

Asked whether she’ll use the app, Kato said it all depends on if her friends decide to join since they all currently use Find My Friends to share their locations when walking home alone.

When Alexandra Farhangui ’20 saw the report that a former Cornell student was storing weapons and a bomb in his Collegetown apartment, she decided to download the app. But she told The Sun that she might not use it.

The app includes a timer that notifies a guardian when the user has arrived home, a function Farhangui said she wouldn’t use for fear that she would forget to turn it off after reaching her destination, “causing undue panic.” Farhangui said other app functions, like options to call CUPD, friends and family, were redundant.

“Though this is a good first step by the University and it serves to show they acknowledged the issue and are attempting to make a change, it seems like it was mainly done for the public appearance of the act,” she said.