A generation ago, college freshmen were taught at orientation to head for a “blue light” emergency phone if they felt threatened on campus.

Now of course, almost everyone has a cellphone. That puts the potential for safety enhancement as close as a student’s backpack, pocket or purse.

Earlier this year, Millersville University adopted LiveSafe, a mobile safety app that connects students, faculty and staff to campus security.

Millersville was soon followed by Franklin & Marshall College and Elizabethtown College.

The three Lancaster County schools are the first three higher education institutions in Pennsylvania to sign on, LiveSafe founder Shy Pahlevani said.

“You start with one or two schools, it really spreads from there,” he said.

The Arlington, Virginia-based company is growing “super-fast,” he said. Besides colleges and universities, its clients include private companies, sports venues and military bases, including Joint Base Andrews, the home of Air Force One.

About 800 Millersville students have downloaded LiveSafe so far, spokeswoman Janet Kacskos said. The college is undertaking a publicity push this fall to encourage adoption, she said.

“It’s literally safety at your fingertips,” said Mary Kate Hudson, a 2014 Millersville graduate who is back at the university getting a master’s degree in emergency management.

She’s helping with the promotional effort.

These days, “people are more likely to resort to texting rather than talking on the phone,” said Joseph Seborowski, who chairs Millersville’s LiveSafe App Committee.

He is a graduate student in emergency management and a volunteer firefighter.

LiveSafe helps “bridge the communication gap between law enforcement and the campus community,” he said.

At Elizabethtown College, 428 students have downloaded LiveSafe, said Andrew Powell, director of campus security.

Like Millersville, E-town has a campaign this fall to promote the app.

How it works

For students, other campus users and security officers alike, “it’s very intuitive and very easy to pick up,” Powell said. “It’s a very simple interface while being very comprehensive at the same time.”

The main LiveSafe screen offers four functions.

First and foremost, it offers “direct and discreet two-way communication” with campus security. Users can call or text an emergency alert or a tip — anonymously, if they wish. They can add photos, audio and video files.

They can also report mental health concerns, a suspected sexual assault, or even something such as a broken window or icy sidewalk.

The SafeWalk feature lets you share their location with selected people. If you are walking home from the library, for example, you can alert some friends and ask them to see that you get home safely. Students can opt-in their parents, if you want.

Users also can use SafeWalk to ask campus security to track them via GPS, or to request a safety escort.

There’s also a map feature with local incident information.

Colleges can customize the app with their logo, safety procedures, lists of local resources with contact information, and so on.

Safety on campus

More than 100 universities in 37 states use LiveSafe, Pahlevani said. Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, has reported a huge upsurge in tips, he said. Arizona State University said it received more than 150 “actionable” notifications the first year.

When parents are researching colleges, “they put safety at the top of the list,” said Frank Brogan, chancellor of the State System of Higher Education, of which Millersville is a member.

Millersville President John Anderson recalls advocating for security phones at a campus in the early 1990s. Schools, including Millersville, still have them: “This just brings it up another level,” he said.

In February, the Millersville campus was rocked by the death of freshman Karlie Hall, allegedly at the hands of her boyfriend, Gregorio Orrostieta.

Millersville was looking into LiveSafe well before that incident, Kacskos said.

While no single tool can guarantee student safety, the app “makes a lot of sense,” she said.

Safety is a personal issue for LiveSafe’s co-founders. Pahlevani has been assaulted; a co-founder, Kristina Anderson, was shot multiple times in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

The app is free to students. Schools pay a yearly fee based on enrollment. Sometimes, student government pays, Pahlevani said.

At Millersville, the cost is $15,000, and the Student Senate is paying half, Kacskos said.

So far, LiveSafe’s renewal rate is 100 percent, Pahlevani said.

Last year, the company received $6.5 million in venture financing from IAC, an Internet and media firm based in New York.

Typically, institutions introducing LiveSafe see 40 percent to 60 percent student adoption in the first year, but 80 percent to 90 percent for freshmen, Pahlevani said.

In a year or two, as those freshmen become sophomores and juniors and new freshmen come in, overall adoption reaches 70 percent to 90 percent, he said.

At E-town, Powell said his security team has already received some helpful non-emergency tips through LiveSafe.

“We think LiveSafe is a very powerful tool that will help make the campus even safer,” he said.

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