Wildfire Safety, an app that first surfaced at the University of California Berkeley, recently announced its launch at Temple. According to its website, the goal of the app is to send “real-time” alerts about nearby crimes or other safety hazards.
As use of the app increases, the developers said they plan to reach out to Philadelphia and Temple Police to make the app more credible.
Hriday Kemburu, the CEO and co-founder of Wildfire, said he decided to create the app after he was nearly mugged near a library at UC Berkeley. When he posted a warning to the school’s Facebook group, he got several messages thanking him for the alert, even though it had reached only several hundred out of about 40,000 graduate and undergraduate students.
Since the app’s launch at UC Berkeley in February 2016, more than 60 percent of students at the school have downloaded the app, said Vinay Ramesh, the app’s co-founder and business leader. He added that when a shooting near UC Berkeley occurred, Wildfire had a warning posted before the campus police, who did not send an alert until the next day.
The app is available throughout Philadelphia and in other major cities like San Francisco and New York City.
“We researched the crime [at Temple] and know students care about the crime that happens and feel that more can be done,” Ramesh said.
“We want this to be a social safety platform,” Kemburu said. “It works well even if there’s only one person using it.”
The developers said the app would be complementary to the university’s established TU Alert system, which is operated by TUPD. TU Alerts are an opt-out program and are sent to between 63,000 to 65,000 students, faculty and workers in the Temple University Health System and Temple’s other Philadelphia campuses, said Charlie Leone, the executive director of Campus Safety Services.
The TU Alert system has been criticized in recent months after some students said the alert about a violent October flash mob did not properly warn students of the dangers. In another instance, the description of a robbery in an alert had “insensitive” language describing a suspect, for which Temple Police later apologized.
Leone said over time, the alerts have been sorted into prewritten alerts for armed robberies, assaults and shootings, and “unique” incidents like the flash mob required university officials to work together to “craft the language” for the alert before sending it out. He added that TUPD has to hold a balance between timeliness and accuracy when creating and sending alerts.
‘They’re robust, they’re proven,” Leone said. “We’ve had other apps come by and talk to us.”
He added those apps were not able to reach as many people as TU Alerts.
“I think information is good if it’s keeping people safe,” he said.
Julie Christie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ChristieJules.