BRISTOL, R.I. (Providence Journal)— The nationally renowned Fourth of July festivities here come with all the usual parade floats and fireworks, but for law enforcement and the public who have concerns about things that seem unusual — well, there’s an app for that.
Along with broad stripes and bright stars in Bristol, there may be red dots, too — on the screens of smartphones and other devices.
These red “pins” — appearing on a map — are where photos or videos and captions were posted by those who downloaded the app. A crowd-sourcing social media network of sorts, the app can be used to send those images with descriptions to alert the police and others with the app about suspicious activities or more everyday problems such as a road hazard.
The crowd-sourcing app, by Vizsafe, a Middletown-based company, was put to use at this year’s Boston Marathon and at Newport’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Bristol police Lt. Scott McNally said it is the first time the Bristol police are using the app. He said users can send photos and videos, and write captions to go with them. The images and words people send also can be viewed in a feed that resembles a Twitter feed.
“If a lot of people that are attending the parade are using this app,” McNally said, “it’s effective not just for something suspicious but, say you get a lost kid, and say you’ve got a picture of that kid.
“Now you can send that out to everybody who’s a user on this and it will alert you, and it will tell you, ‘Here’s a lost child.’ Here’s the picture, here’s the description of him, here’s his name. This is who he is, this is him, this is his phone number.
“So, we can get that out to everybody that’s using this app. Before, it was walking around yelling the name and, hopefully, somebody grabs him out of the crowd.” By contrast, he said, “This is instant — there’s no delay here.”
A Bristol police officer will be dedicated to monitoring the feed during Fourth of July festivities. If the police review what someone posts and think it’s worth looking into, officers can be alerted, McNally said.
But McNally cautioned that the priority for people should always be to first dial 911 in any emergency. The Vizsafe app, he said, is another tool for law enforcement, a modern-day way for the public to be the eyes and ears for the police.
The company, said Peter Mottur, Vizsafe’s chief executive officer, sees it as a “platform that empowers citizens to actively participate in their communities’ well-being.”
There is no charge to download the app, he said, and it works on iPhones and Android phones. And for other devices, he said, people can use the Web browser at vizsafe.com.
He said the app is about the premise that “connected communities are safer communities.”
People can share and receive information on their phones in two views: one is the map view showing the red pins; the other is the feed view showing photos and videos as they get posted.
A user of the app also can choose various channels — categories — to tailor the information received. For instance, someone in a fire department might choose to subscribe to a fire channel that provides information shared in that feed.
And users can set a “geo-fence” — a geographical area from which people’s postings will be received. It could be as small as a street or as big as a statewide map, Mottur said.
For instance, a police department might set a geo-fence for a city, town or jurisdiction.
“You can set as many geo-fences as you want anywhere in the world,” Mottur said.
“We’re really trying to empower people to be good neighbors” and to share information, he said.
He said an animal rescue league or the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children could use the app’s information to find missing animals and to solve crimes.
People will receive an alert when there is something reported within their geo-fence area.
“It will all show up on the map, so they will know exactly where it is,” he said.
Vizsafe started about two years ago, Mottur said.
There are nearly 2 billion smartphones worldwide, he said, so he believes the app can help harness the power of a crowd of people to help, “to be a good neighbor and want to support their community and support not only their friends and families but their neighbors [and] the first responders in their community.”
By MICHAEL P. McKINNEY
JOURNAL STAFF WRITER
About Vizsafe, Inc.
Vizsafe is the only 24/7 global platform dedicated to safety and awareness. Vizsafe’s innovative mobile platform enhances event and community safety by crowdsourcing, organizing and sharing visual content in real-time. Vizsafe users are fans and neighbors who support their communities, as well as first responders in fire, emergency medical and law enforcement. Vizsafe partners with organizations that care about public safety.
Learn more at www.vizsafe.com