Good “Geofences” Make Good Neighbors in Age of Mobile Alerts

For every institution of higher education, the safety and protection of its campus community is of primary importance. Recent events have shown an increase in campus crime, assaults and even a tragic loss of life.

Apps such as Ping4alerts! allow campuses to send hyperlocal smartphone alerts related to public safety, school closings, local events, power outages, traffic and weather advisories, and deals from nearby merchants. They can help institutions serve and protect their students, increase their sense of community, and create new revenue opportunities to fuel future growth. They can also help education institutions prove compliance with the Clery Act.

According to a recent ReThinkWireless report, 119.3 million people in the U.S. owned smartphones in 2012, reflecting 51% penetration. This number highly skews to college-aged populations and continues to grow rapidly

Building the geofence

Hyperlocal alerts are a new capability made possible by the rise of smart devices and “geofencing” technology. A geofence is a virtually “fenced-off” area or geographic location. When this concept is applied to mobile devices, it refers to the ability of users to receive automatic alerts or notifications when entering, leaving or moving within a geographic area specifically defined by a virtual geofence. That area could be as small as a single building or as large as a state or region of the country. System administrators draw a square on a map through their portal interface to designate the location and size of the geofenced in area.

Hyperlocal mobile alerts can be used to:

  • Warn of dangerous storms or other natural disasters;
  • Protect and inform citizens during terrorist or sniper attacks;
  • Provide emergency communications during a power outage or catastrophic failure of the communications infrastructure;
  • Enlist help in finding missing persons, suspects or parties of interest; and
  • Help the campus police to get the word out faster and ultimately solve more crimes.

These alerts can be two-way communications in the form of photos, videos and text and audio messages, providing useful, perhaps lifesaving, information. Hyperlocal smartphone alerts can wake up a smart phone in the middle of the night to tell someone to get out of a dorm right away in the instance of fire, tornados, hurricanes or other emergencies.

Hyperlocal alerts can be a low-cost augmentation to a college’s existing notification system, preserving existing information technology (IT) infrastructure without disrupting back-end IT environments. The systems can provide campuses and local public safety agencies with a way to notify anyone in their proximity who has downloaded the hyperlocal smartphone application.

These systems can be offered in a relatively low-cost, subscription-based pricing model to education institutions, and their usage and cost can be shared with other departments such as campus housing, campus food service and the athletic department. This service can scale to meet the needs of the largest universities and their surrounding populations and can be made available through an easy-to-use web-based portal.

Unlike landline or simple text-messaging, hyperlocal smartphone alerts use cellular networks, WiFi and GPS technology to reach a smartphone wherever it may be at any given moment in time with minimal battery drain. Users can send truly anonymous tips into the local authorities to help solve crimes or find missing persons.

The user must opt-in to receive the alerts that are of interest and to avoid alert overload. The fact that only geographically specific alerts are sent to users according to where they are at any given moment also limits the number of alerts users can receive.

Clery Act compliance

The hyperlocal alerts help campuses fulfill the federal requirements of the Clery Act. This law seeks to ensure that parents, students and other members of the campus community are adequately informed about crimes on or near campuses, and about campus security policies and procedures. The law covers public and independent institutions of postsecondary education participating in federal student-aid programs. Failure to comply can result in fines or civil penalties against institutions for each infraction and suspend institutions from participating in federal student aid programs.

Although the Clery Act requires postsecondary institutions to issue timely warning notices of crimes and emergencies on campus to their students and community members, this is not so easily done for transient visitors on campus at the time of a crime or emergency, including visiting students, alumni, parents or non-registered individuals who might be on site for sporting events for example. Hyperlocal smartphone alerts are the only way to find these unofficial campus visitors, whose contact details you don’t have in order to send them alerts when they are on campus.

Cases for higher education

Hyperlocal smartphone alerts can be used by universities and colleges in the following three ways:

  1. Hyperlocal public safety to protect and serve the campus community while meeting federal compliance requirements to ensure timely warning notices of crimes and emergencies on campus to its students.
  2. Hyperlocal campus merchant deals to inform students, faculty, administration and visitors of campus merchant deals, promotions, events and community interest notices.
  3. Hyperlocal community retail deals to drive new revenue opportunities to the institution through local community retailers and sponsors resulting in an exclusive one-to-one direct marketing relationships between retailers and the campus community.

This can include real-time offers and promotions from the campus bookstore or other on-campus retail establishments. Dining halls can reach the campus community with daily menus or waiting-line statuses. School officials can notify students of class cancellations, schedule changes or events and programs. Hyperlocal smartphone alerts can help institutions of higher education institutions enhance communications, increase community cohesiveness, and create new revenue stream opportunities.

They enable institutions to create targeted deals and enhanced ticket sales for events that have remaining seats available. Campus organizations can send promotional messages to attend football games, alumni events, attend rallies, support charitable, and community goodwill programs and much more depending on what the user has opted in for.

Education institutions can now also create compelling marketing opportunities for businesses within two miles of campus who wish to sell their products and services to the members of the campus and surrounding communities. This enables institutions of higher education to create new revenue streams to offset budget cuts or fuel existing growth plans through revenue shares or other marketing partnerships with local retailers or national brands that wish to build their images with students and the campus community at large. With the app’s ability to receive full rich-media promotions, retailers, businesses and organizations can push audio, video, photographs, coupons and more in real-time for immediate transactional purposes.

Jim Bender is CEO of Ping4 Inc, a software communications company focusing on advanced geo-mobile communications for the smartphone market. He can be reached at


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