The Amber Alert system in New York lets the law enforcement ask the public for help in finding missing people.

When one of our team members was in New York, this system sent him a notification asking for help. We believe this concept could be of great help to communities outside the US, and could be enhanced to be so much more.

What it does

We decided to expand and enrich the Amber Alert System, by letting local authorities send alerts to everyone in a specified area, giving them personalised information for what to do in an emergency.

Our system uses a central server, through which someone with privileged access (e.g. one of the authorities who has access to the system) can select a region on an embedded map and send notifications to everyone there.

This geographic notification platform has been extended to be more complex however. We have created a graphical UI through which more detailed alerts can be created. Suppose we wanted to alert everyone in a region about some emergency but want people to respond differently depending on their capability (e.g. families with children, people living alone, and those with disabilities may need to react differently when an evacuation is required). Our UI allows the administrator to compose a series of questions and actions for users to get the right message to the right people, with a simple drag-and-drop interface requiring no previous technical knowledge.

How we built it

We used Google Maps API for the map UI in our web-app. The system highlights everyone who has the app within the selected region and gives a break-down of their information (device type, name, location). When the notification is sent it appears on the device of every person within the region selected. This then updates the app with the latest version of the alert program, so that the user can get catered details about the alert for them, and what they should do in response.

Challenges we ran into

During our development, we encounted numerous issues, such as:

  • Determining how to let the user select a region of the map, in an intuitive manner.

  • Determining an efficient way to detect all users in the specified area.

  • Identifying the correct framework to build our drag-and-drop UI with, as noone in our team had previous experience with Javascript.

  • Converting the users drag-and-drop UI to a series of questions the user can interact with and obtain a relevant response.

Accomplishments that we're proud of

We are especially proud of our easy to use UI, allowing an individual with no prior technical experience to deliver an interactive query system to user's phones, in real-time. This is delivered to pre-selected users based on their geographic location, allowing people to learn more about the situation, specifically for their needs.

What we learned

We learnt how to use the Google Maps API to select specific regions, and detect whether a users geolocation is within such a region. This was also the first time we had used Javascript, so learning how to create an interactive web-app which could dynamically change was a great learning experience.

What's next for EmergeAndSee

We want to implement local maps for our users on their phones, allowing them to stay away from potentially dangerous areas. Such a map could also show local law enforcement services, letting the public know when to expect a response, in a fast and accurate manner.

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