When it comes to personal safety, taking precautions is important: don’t walk alone in dark areas at night, always let someone know where you’re going, stay aware of your surroundings - all of these are great habits to develop and build on and they could save your life.
For everything else, there’s smartphones.
Sure, we mostly use cellphones for entertainment, and as a way of staying connected with the world around us. At any given moment, we can log onto a website and see what’s happening on the other side of the globe, have a conversation with a friend we haven’t seen in years, and pay bills or sign for a delivery. It’s easy to forget that the primary aim of cellphones has always been a way to communicate quickly, and as efficiently as possible.
Whether you remember the time when you had to remember phone numbers manually or whether you were born with an iPhone in your hand, cellphones can help keep you safe when the going gets tough and the tough could use some backup.
Here are seven personal safety apps that you should keep on your phone, just in case you ever need them - and they’re all free to download and use, and available on both iOS and Android
If you have to walk home alone at any point in the day, you might feel uncomfortable - but it’s far worse when it’s nighttime. No matter how short your walk is, our newsfeeds are constantly telling us about all the bad things that can happen to you when you’re out at night.
bSafe is an app where you are constantly monitored: from recording audio and text messages with GPS locations to friends and family to creating a ‘check in’ time and a ‘walk with you’ feature that allows your friends and family to track your route and make sure you get home safely. You can also set it to emit a siren or turn on a flashlight, to create a fake call to get you out of sketchy situations, and to work on voice activation so you don’t even need to worry about touching your phone.
The premise behind Red Panic Button is simple: if you need help, no matter what for, you press the button on your phone-screen and send an SMS and email with your GPS coordinates to your emergency contacts. It comes with smart watch integration and you can customise who your emergency contacts are - but if you’re in a rush and you don’t know what channel to send your distress message on, it also has an overall Emergency Dial which will call a number of your choosing.
Red Panic Button also comes with a remote access feature that can allow whoever receives your message to get the last known location of your phone, and you can send videos and pictures without an issue.
Noonlight is built to be simple: if you’re in a situation you’re uncomfortable with, all you need to do is hold your finger on the button and wait. Once you release the button, Noonlight will first ask you for a pin, and when ten seconds are up, it will try and call you. If you don’t answer the call, the company will send local police and first responders to your location.
Besides first responders, Noonlight also allows you to add contacts to an in-app safety network, who can check in on you at any time and call the local authorities themselves if they’re worried - and they don’t need to download the app to do so.
The Sabre name is all about personal safety: not only do they make pepper spray and safety devices, they’re also big on teaching people how to keep themselves safe. That said, sometimes the only sure method for staying safe is getting people to your location as quickly as possible, and that’s what the Sabre app is for.
The free version allows you to contact trusted contacts if you feel unsafe through a panic button system, and your contact will get a link to your location to check on you. Sabre requires a pin number to mark yourself safe, and your contact will still be able to see you even if you do accidentally hit the panic button.
Watch Over Me is an unobtrusive app that tracks your location for a pre-set duration. You can share details to your friends or add a picture of where you are, and if you’re not in a position to tap the ‘I’m Safe’ button at the end of your time, your emergency contact will get an alert with pictures and your last known location. You can also shake your phone to turn on your alarm and video camera, and send a distress call to your emergency contacts.
And if you’re passing through an area you’re not familiar with, Watch Over Me has a map included that rates the streets on safety measures using crime data, social media, and other information.
The First Aid app by the American Red Cross can walk you through the first steps you need to take after an emergency, and also helps put you in touch with 911. With dedicated disaster preparedness sections as well as easy-to-understand video guides, the First Aid app is available in both Spanish and English.
Every cellphone today will have the capability to call 911, for free and regardless of whether or not you have service or a sim card installed. As long as you’re in a location with some signal, the 911 distress call will go through, so if you run out of options, there’s always this as a last resort.
We’ve come a long way since the early days where an emergency could go undiscovered for days at a time, but while these apps can definitely help keep you safe, it’s not a replacement for good safety practice. If you’re in an unsafe situation, do your utmost to rely on yourself: find a safe space in public, call a friend, and make as much noise as you can.
Stay safe out there.