Three Kenyan developers create ingenious 'panic button' app to help save lives

What if it was possible for people in need of help, at the flick of a wrist, alert emergency services? They thought.

According to Ipsos survey, at least 17 per cent of residents in Nairobi have been victims of crime in the past 3 months, compared to the national average of 9 per cent.

Crime rate in Nairobi City is about twice the national average and getting help is not easy either.

In Kenya, contacting emergency providers can be very cumbersome and there is no guarantee one will receive help in time if they contact the emergency services.

"I felt hopeless and I couldn't get any help. Luckily, they just took my stuff," Edwin Inganji, a developer and entrepreneur who become one of the statistics when he was attacked by a group of men who stole his laptop told CNN.

In 1998 the Kenyan police service switched off the emergency number claiming they didn't have the resources to operate it.

In 2013, they reopened the line only for it to be overloaded by prank calls.

In a bid to ensure no one else went through what he had experienced, Inganji, teamed up with  his two friends James Chege and Marvin Makau -- also developers, sat down and cracked their heads up thinking how they can make people safer.

And just like that a simple thought become reality and ‘Usalama’ was born.

‘Usalama’ which is Swahili word for safety is a mobile app that sends a distress signal when a user shakes their phone three times alerting emergency services of their location, as well as their next of kin, and every "Usalama" user within 200m.

While "Usalama" might not have prevented Inganji's phone from being stolen, it could have at least quickly and accurately alerted the police and ambulance services of his whereabouts in case he was injured or worse stabbed and left for dead.

"In an emergency seconds can be the difference between life and death," Inganji adds.

The founders of "Usalama" hope to bridge this gap between mobile-savvy Kenyans and emergency providers.

It was not all smooth sailing and patting on their backs, initially, the concept was met with criticism and skepticism from the very people it sought to make their work a little bit easier, emergency providers.

However, after a series of free trials they gifted to various private companies in the sector, the team slowly won over the skeptics and now have a number of security, health and women’s organisations onboard.

What more while ensuring people in need get quick assistance the app is also collecting data which is vital for security and emergency services for easier planning and resource allocation.

The App also logs incidences reported by users, creating a database to highlight "crime hotspots" in towns and cities.

Due to its simplicity and adaptability across different and diverse markets ‘Usalama’ has found acceptance and interest from as far as US.

The team says they have had interest from an organization in America and are working to introduce parts of the app to college campuses to help address safety concerns for women.

After the acceptance of Usalama Inganji, and his two friends are now developing the app beyond the 'panic button' function to include added safety features.

"If you are going home late at night, you can set the app so that you and a friend make sure you return home safe. We're also introducing a timer where if you're not home, say within an hour, it sends a distress signal," Inganji explains.


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