With the recent rise of school shootings, schools and communities are racing to find ways to be better prepared for the worst. This has lead to the rise of various school security apps, but all of them lack crucial components that would help a school react better to emergency situations. Many of these are little better than the old school, three ringed binder approach that schools have been using for decades. Salus is a campus safety system that helps school administrators, staff, and students prepare for emergency situations and better manage them once an emergency begins.
What it does
Once a school decides to use Salus, they create a map of their campus and devise safety protocols specific to different emergency situations. Administrators can mark zones as dangerous, or safe - for instance, a parking lot or a field could be deemed as a safe zone during a fire. But one advantage of Salus over our competitors is that these protocols don't remain static - once an emergency is detected and the alarm is raised on our system, administrators can change the status of different buildings or areas as they gain information in real time.
Salus also allows for greater student accountability. Today, most children and teens carry smartphones with them during their day to day activities. Students can download Salus to receive alerts and notifications once an emergency begins and view which zones are deemed safe or dangerous right from their phone. They can also manually mark themselves as safe or in danger and communicate with administrators via the Twillio API. Through the API the student can communicate important information to the administrators of the system. These administrators can look at individual messages as well as the general trends of the messages in the emergency manager dashboard and choose how best to act on the information. They have the ability to request more information from a student who sent in information and they have the ability to broadcast the information instantly to everyone subscribed to the system to all administrators and students through the twilio api. Twilio also allows the administrators to communicate with each other. As soon as an emergency is initiated all admins get a text message with the link to the admin portal. Additionally the students get a breif informative text telling them what the situation is and how best to approach it.
Furthermore, once a protocol is activated, administrators can see the locations of students from their dashboard and keep track of which students are in safe zones. Because location tracking isn't activated until an emergency situation begins, it avoids violating student's privacy. There are several systems in place to ensure data privacy and security. The first being that a student is always notified of an emergency. Under no circumstance is an administrator able to spy on students. Another security measure taken is the deletion of records once an emergency has ended. The locations of students and adminsitrators are removed from the servers. Any caches on the server are cleared and location data that can be traced back to an individual student is deleted. This is to ensure that student privacy is respected and there would be trust to use this system.
This application came with several challenges. One of which was the scope. A software like this has broad potential to be used by not only schools, but also hospitals, office parks and malls. We chose to focus on schools, because the people who would be in the vicinity of a school would be easier to keep track of, but this system was designed to be abstract in its implementation.
Another challenge we faced was setting up a database management system that was not only able to store static data that would never change, but also store data in a way that is consistent across several users who could be using this system to make critical and potentially life or death decisions. In order to do this we built a caching database system which maintains its state and the key to access this database is a user id as well as the institution that the user is affiliated with. This caching server ensures that protocols can be repeated but also changed to suit the needs of an evolving situation in a way that systems like a 3-ring binder or other competing softwares are unable to do. This caching server allows for fast, real time data transmission, but it also allows for information to be dispatched in real time. The database system keeps track of all emergency time interactions with the database to ensure that administrators have the most information possible. Our database system in addition to Twilio have allowed Salus to be fast, easy to use and informative.
Getting the map to render across platfroms also proved to be a challenge as the maps are the logical backing behind the geofencing system. The map and tile system that the map is on allows us to not only maintain where users are located, but it would allow us to determine if they are in a dangerous building or if they have evacuated and are at one of potentially many safe areas. Setting up the map to visually show information such as geofences as well as user information was a significant challenge technically.
Salus provides a unique approach to school and campus safety. It is flexible. It can be applied to any campus anywhere. It allows for common sense decisions to be made in real time. It allows students to stay informed about the situation and empowers them to make smarter decisions faster in life threatening situations. All of this is done while still respecting user privacy, reducing school liability, and increasing efficiency. We ensure that all user data is encrypted at rest and deleted after an emergency. The system automatically keeps track of where students are in real time and has the potential to mark them as safe or unsafe and allows for evacuations to be conducted much more swiftly by allowing access to better information.