Republic of Lebanon

Smartphone Applications for a Safer Environment

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  • Smartphone Applications for a Safer Environment

    By Carole Sadaka

    Gunfire shots fired in the air, a sound most Lebanese have grown accustomed to during the war, is still a very common occurrence even though the "war" has been over for several years now. It is very common during happy events (marriages, births, graduation, etc...) as well as during sad occasions (funerals), or to celebrate political figures' speeches, returns, TV appearances, etc...

    One evening, while listening to the celebratory bursts of gunfire, a thought came to mind. What if firearms can be replaced with software applications? Everyone owns a Smartphone nowadays; it is much safer to use an app than a real firearm, and definitely not as loud.

    After more online research, it was a surprise to find a slew of similar or related apps to download. One particular application, funded by DARPA and created by Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, goes a step beyond with its ability to locate the source of gunfire by analyzing the sounds of shockwaves from bullets. Notably, this app is not available to the public and was created for military and law enforcement professionals’ use, however a local Lebanese engineer is developing a similar app called the “Way to Safety” for civilians for free. According to the founder, the app uses the crowd-infrastructure and relies on the user's Smartphone microphones to catch the gunfire and match it with users' GPS and location data. He states that: "Within 30 seconds after a shot is fired, the application will determine the source location of the shooter, the direction he was aiming at, the type and caliber of the weapon used and the number of bullets fired. This data will be sent to the nearby residents for free and we will also send it to the army, paramedics, press." He adds that in the future, the app could also be used to identify rocket fire and trajectory.

    In Lebanon in particular, advance-warning apps are gaining momentum, with apps such as “LAF Shield” being officially adapted for the Lebanese army to establish a direct communication channel with the citizens, allowing users to receive updates on security incidents and report any crime or incident (kidnap, violence, theft, suspicious activities, etc...).

    More recently, due to the wave of suicide car bombings and explosions sweeping the country, a new mobile application, called "I am Alive", was created by a young Lebanese woman, which with a single click sends a tweet to loved ones reassuring them that all is well. Thus getting around the phone and cellular networks’ saturation due to high call volume, and quickly relieving the anxiety of family and friends. Other examples are apps that offer to differentiate between fireworks and gunfire, locate areas of clashes or battles, and provide real-time updates of street protests, fires, roadblocks and armed conflict.

    Although the implementations are different, they all revolve around the same concept, SAFETY.

    In light of the country’s current security situation, it is important for Government to play a supporting role to encourage such apps, perhaps by developing an outreach and development strategy connecting concerned parties and specialists and ensuring these apps are properly advertised in the media. This helps in widening the market for such applications, and hopefully expanding their reach to other countries plagued by civil unrest.

    Other efforts could include research to explore similar apps worldwide and document people’s reactions to them, and how well they are received and applied. NGO’s might also be able to play a part by studying the social environment and culture that incubates such behaviors and exploring how these apps can be used as incentive to change/affect future behavior towards a safer environment. On the long run, work can be done to eventually link these apps depending on their use, to news agencies such as the national news agency (NNA) that can investigate in collaboration with the LAF the authenticity of the crisis reported, so then civilians can be formally and in due time alerted through official broadcasting stations.

    In the end, we should always keep in mind how to take advantage of technology to protect our environment and family. This is one good example that we can build on and elaborate our efforts.

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