By Madeline Bartos | Staff Writer
For students living off campus for the first time, navigating the streets of Pittsburgh can be difficult. With daylight saving time shortening the amount of sunlight in the evening, walking the streets can get even trickier. Your parents have probably told you to never walk by yourself, but sometimes you can’t find a ride or friend to walk with.
For those looking for an extra layer of safety while walking alone, there are several apps you can download that use GPS technology to make sure you reach your destination safely.
iPhones automatically have Find My Friends installed, which also works with iPad, iPod touch, Apple Watch and iCloud.com. It offers a basic location system in which you can share your location with up to 100 people, and see the location of up to 100 people. It also allows you to share your location with others, so they can get directions to where you are.
Some apps track your route and send alerts whenever you find yourself in a compromising situation. bSafe is an app that does this and allows you to set a timer that sends an SOS out to friends if you fail to check in. bSafe can also schedule fake calls so you can have a convenient way to excuse yourself from a shady situation.
Unlike bSafe, Companion allows you to share your location with those you deem “companions,” but they don’t have to download the app. Instead, they are sent a text message containing a link to a map that will allow them to keep track of you. If you pull out your headphones, drop your phone, or begin to run, the app will promptly ask if you are okay, or if you would like to call the police. If you do not respond, the app will send a notification to your preset companions.
Some apps, like Watch Over Me, will begin to record video and send an alert to emergency contacts with the shake of a phone. This feature is especially useful, since sometimes in an uncomfortable situation you may not be able to reach for your phone, open an app and press an alarm. Watch Over Me also allows users to set a time limit, and if you don’t reach your destination before you can tap a button in the app, an alert is sent out to your emergency contacts.
SafeTrek, available for Android and iPhone, skips over the middleman of emergency contacts and alerts local police. SafeTrek requires users to press their finger against the button in the middle of the screen if they feel threatened or unsafe. If the button is released, and a 4-digit PIN is not entered, the local police are alerted.
For junior Julie Jameson, living off campus at Flats on Fifth and adjusting to daylight saving time has been a struggle. Jameson grew up in a small town and is always on high alert walking alone in the city. With daylight saving time making it darker earlier, Jameson has found her schedule forming around when and how she can commute safely to school.
“It’s definitely kind of a pain,” she said about daylight saving time. “It definitely changes up. You kind of have to cater around it, because I don’t know what it is about being dark, but it just makes it more scary.”
She prefers to not take the 10-15 minute walk from campus to her apartment alone at night. She tries to arrange rides with her roommate to keep her off of Fifth and Forbes Avenue when it gets dark.
“If it’s dark out and I have to walk home, I will do it alone,” she said. “But I’m much more comfortable if I have someone to walk with me. There’s always someone, that if they know I’m walking home, they’ll say, ‘Text me when you’re home.’”
Instead of using an app, Jameson calls her parents to talk with until she makes it safely to her destination.
“Sometimes if it’s borderline dark out, I’ll call my dad on the phone. I’ll call my mom, or I’ll just make sure I’m talking to somebody, because that will make me feel a little bit safer,” she said.
Jameson has also taken self defense classes and carries pepper spray.
“When I’m walking alone, I have my pepper spray, and I’m one of those people, if I’m really on edge, I’ll carry my keys in my hand,” she said.
If walking alone at night makes you uneasy, consider carrying pepper spray, taking a self defense class or downloading an app. While apps like bSafe, Watch Over Me, or SafeTrek may seem unnecessary, they’re great precautionary measures for situations no one ever expects themselves to be in, until they are. For example, Watch Over Me was created after its developer Xin-Ci Chin escaped a kidnap and rape assault in 2012.
“Existing safety measures are filled with don’ts,” according to Watch Over Me’s website.
“‘Don’t go there alone at night,’ ‘Don’t wear that, Don’t do that,’ — these cautionary measures are restrictive, and not relevant in the 21st century. With technology, we hope to arm women with information and awareness so they can make better decisions about their safety.”