Beefing Up Security Through the App Store

By Graig Graziosi

Alongside Instagramming parking deck sunrises and sending hookup yaks, students may eventually be able to use a mobile app to summon campus police at the touch of a button.

Over spring break, Youngstown State University Chief of Police John Beshara and Student Government Association President Michael Slavens visited Cleveland State University to attend a demonstration of CSU’s comprehensive mobile security app, Viking Shield.

The app — developed by 911 Cellular — streamlines CSU’s security services, allowing students a direct line to campus police and emergency personnel.

Slavens said he believes student access to the app would not only provide a new layer of security for students, but also peace of mind for their parents and families.

“It seems really great. It has all kinds of amazing features, everything from an anonymous police tip service to a shuttle tracker. … I think it has the potential to further eliminate the safety concerns that people have [about YSU],” he said.

The app’s other features are a mix of security and health services. Students who witness a crime or suspicious activity can take photos or record audio or video and send the information directly to the police. In the event of a student’s bodily injury, the app can, with permission, store their relevant medical data for use by emergency personnel.

While the CSU app was the most recently examined by Beshara, the YSUPD police chief has been reviewing a variety of apps that may eventually serve the security needs of YSU students.

“[The YSUPD] needs to do our due-diligence in staying on top of emerging security technologies,” Beshara said. “Today, our security needs are taken care of with [YSU’s mass alert system], but tomorrow our needs may change. We have to be ready to meet those needs, and knowing what kind of technology is out there to fill those roles is a necessity.”

Most of the systems Beshara has tested would work alongside the Wireless Emergency Notification System —YSU’s text alerts — rather than replacing the current system.

“Utilizing both services is what we call redundancy, and we don’t see it as a bad thing,” Beshara said. “We want systems in place to ensure we’re never left without a way to contact students in an emergency.”

CSU students using the Viking Shield app are given access to the app at orientation and encouraged to sign up their first week. Slavens was impressed by the app’s apparent ability to lessen the stigma that CSU was a high crime campus, and believes it or similar apps could do the same for YSU.

“Personally, I’m on board and love it. This would be a great marketing boost and a way to change a stigma for little cost,” Slavens said.

While the app may have found success at CSU, Beshara is taking careful consideration of current and potential technology options before committing YSU to any expensive contracts with app companies.

“We looked at several apps, some of which had costs that ranged from $15,000 a year to $75,000 a year … obviously we need to be careful before we commit to a contract. … In my opinion, CSU’s system may work for us in the future, but it seems more meant for large campus populations, and as we’re a commuter school, I don’t know that it’s practical here at YSU,” Beshara said. “Just because our current system works doesn’t mean we should stop looking. We have to be ready to meet the changing needs of our security situation.”