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New Mac safety app’s effectiveness may be lacking The updated version of the app has new features, but does little to address more systemic student safety issues

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Photo by Aaron de Jesus

By: Elliot Fung

In January 2019, McMaster Security Services announced an update to their mobile safety app, allowing students to receive safety alert notifications and information about campus safety resources.

The app, which was developed in partnership with both McMaster and the McMaster Students Union, provides a centralised location for contact information for a multitude of emergency and non-emergency safety services.

In 2013, McMaster Security Services released an application that included the capacity to easily contact emergency services, the MSU Emergency First Response Team and request the MSU Student Walk Home Attendant Team.

In addition, users could access transit information, the university’s emergency protocols and live alerts.

The 2019 update includes many of the previous features and adds new ones.

However, the new app has omitted information about EFRT and transit.

Among the app’s new noteworthy features includes a “Friend Walk” option that allows students to watch their friends as they travel home.

Friend Walk allows a user to send their real-time location to a friend. The user picks a friend to send their location to via SMS or email and then initiates a walk and chooses a destination.

If the user is under duress, they have to option to notify their friend and start an emergency call. If either the user or the friend disconnects from the walk, an option to contact emergency services will appear on the screen.

According to a McMaster Daily News article about the app update, “Friend Walk” serves to enhance the on-campus SWHAT service, which provides students with the ability to walk to a destination with the company of two attendants.

Another notable feature of the app is a crime map.

The map displays the location and dates of recent crimes in Hamilton and the area surrounding McMaster.

Crimes displayed include categories like auto-theft, car burglary and residential burglary.

The app also features a section about student support services, where users can access information about various student supports on-campus including the McMaster Equity and Inclusion Office, sexual violence support, and McMaster Wellness Centre.

Users can also email facility services to report an issue.

However, according to the “On-Campus Infrastructure Policy Paper” passed by the MSU Student Representative Assembly in Nov. 2018, the process of submitting a work order for a repair of infrastructure is still meticulous and unavailable to off-campus students.

The safety app is an improvement to the outdated safety app that was implemented in 2013.

The McMaster Security Services website characterizes the app as a ‘must have’ that contains valuable features and information.

However, it appears the app may not do a great deal to improve students’ experiences.

During the 2017-2018 academic year, the MSU proposed a variety of suggestions for increasing student safety on and off campus and improving the university’s response via the university’s sexual violence prevention and response policy.

As it stands, the university has yet to implement these recommendations and make improvements to these resources.

Among the recommendations relating to infrastructure in the policy paper were increasing the number of red assistance phones and improving lighting on campus and in the surrounding housing areas.

The newly updated safety app does not ensure these larger recommendations are implemented, only consolidating information that is already available online.

In addition, while students can use the app to access information about sexual violence support at McMaster, they also cannot do much beyond that to improve their experience and safety.

More information about the safety app can be found at https://security.mcmaster.ca/crime_prevention_safetyapp.html.

 

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