Kenyatta University Students’ Panic Button App Shortlisted For Africa Prize for Engineering

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Three Kenyan university students have developed a panic button app that alerts local security, medical, and fire authorities in case of an emergency. The app dubbed Usalama, a Swahili word for safety, has a database of all recorded crime alerts, which enables the police and other emergency responders to identify crime-prone areas, allowing them to put in place the necessary security measures.

In an interview with Face2Face Africa, the app’s co-founder, Edwin Inganji, revealed that the idea of developing a panic button app was born out of his encounter with robbers who stole his laptop and mobile phone.

His ordeal inspired him and his two classmates, Marvin Makau and Kenneth Gachukia, to develop a simple technology that could be activated silently and promptly to alert emergency service providers and security agents in case of an attack.

“I always kept thinking, what if they had shot me and there was no one to help me. I would have needed emergency response urgently and would probably have not gotten it as quickly before I bled out,” Inganji explained.

How It Works

Usalama, which was launched in November 2016, is a smartphone app that is activated by simply shaking your phone three times while holding down the volume button, or tapping on the app’s icon.

It then sends an emergency alert to the police or other emergency responders – as well as any other Usalama users within 200 meters from your location. This, Ingunja says, helps to broaden the effectiveness and efficiency of the app.

To sign up, the user is required to provide three contacts of their next of kin, including their spouse, a work colleague, and a parent. The three contacts are the first people to be notified, in addition to any relevant emergency service providers.

The app continues to send emergency updates to the available contacts every five minutes until the situation is resolved.

Currently, the app has 3,000 users and was recently shortlisted to represent Kenya in the Africa Prize for Engineering, where only 16 African entrepreneurs are selected by the Royal Academy for Engineering based on the potential of their project.

“We are looking to engage more and more emergency providers as partners as well as getting the app out there to users. This will go a long way in ensuring we make a difference in society with our app,” Ingunja said.

The trio also plans to improve the app by incorporating a new platform where users will be able to share information about crime in their locations and inform security agents of areas that are notorious for insecurity.

They also hope to introduce a “walk with me” feature to enable users to virtually escort each other home at night.

Whereas the Kenyan government has been putting in place measures to avert crime in the country, the level of insecurity in Kenya is still significantly high, with common offenses such as carjacking, burglary, robbery, and kidnapping being reported on an almost daily basis.

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