Survivor of Virginia Tech shootings among creators of an app to stem campus crime

November 17, 2013

Kristina Anderson was 19 years old when a gunman burst into her Virginia Tech classroom on an April morning in 2007. The then-sophomore was shot three times — twice in the back and once in the foot — as 11 classmates and her teacher were killed.

In the years since that attack, Anderson has traveled around the country speaking about her experience as a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre, the deadliest shooting on a college campus in U.S. history.

Now she and a team of co-founders are hoping to play a more active role in stemming campus crime with a mobile app called LiveSafe that allows college students to track crimes on campus, and report incidents or tips directly to the university police department.

“A lot of people say, ‘I thought this already existed.’ It’s a very simple concept, but it’s also a very important one,” Anderson said. “As smartphone adoption has spread, it makes sense for safety to become a part of app culture.”

LiveSafe is the brainchild of founder Shy Pahlevani, who orginially created the app under the name CrimePush. He previously worked for uKnow.com, a company that helps parents protect their kids in digital environments.

CrimePush garnered more than 100,000 downloads, but served primarily as a way for the public to anonymously report tips to authorities. As the company narrowed its focus to the higher education market and added new features, it changed the name to LiveSafe.

“People have knowledge or information, but they’re not speaking up, and that’s not acceptable because that information can prevent school violence,” Anderson said.

The app aims to ease the burden of reporting crimes or suspicious activities to police by allowing users to do so without actually calling a dispatcher.

They can report non-emergency incidents, such as theft, car accidents, harassment, vandalism or mental health concerns, with the tap of a finger. Users can also send photos, audio or video to police through the app, or chat directly with a member of the campus police department.

Public safety officials then collect all of the tips on a dashboard that allows them to have a more comprehensive view of what’s happening on campus and interact with students who tip them off to suspicious or criminal acts.

“What’s been really fascinating is how much students don’t like to use their phone to call the police, but are willing to send in all sorts of tips when they can do it through an app,” said Jenny Abramson, who joined the company a month ago as chief executive officer.

Abramson’s background blends business and education. She previously worked for Georgetown-based upstart Personal and The Washington Post, as well as for the D.C. Public Schools.

But LiveSafe is trying to make it in an already competitive market. The company isn’t the first to connect mobile technology and public safety, or to enter the campus safety market.

But executives hope to differentiate LiveSafe from other applications that are primarily used in emergencies. LiveSafe is most effective when students use the app on a regular basis to report even minor crimes or questionable behavior, Anderson said.

“When they do need to open the app and report something, they’ll know how to use it and they’ll take it seriously,” she said.

The app is already being used at Virginia Commonwealth University and the University of New Hampshire, among other schools.

Follow Steven Overly on Twitter: @StevenOverly

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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