By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Students and staff arriving at Quincy University this fall will have an added layer of security at their disposal.
QU is the first university in Illinois to adopt the "MyForce" campus security system that lets subscribers summon help in emergency situations by pressing a single button on their cellphones.
Once the button is activated, a call will be placed to the MyForce monitoring headquarters, which will use Global Positioning System technology to pinpoint the person's exact location -- whether the person is on campus or not. A trained MyForce representative will listen as the incident unfolds and verify if an actual emergency is taking place. The representative can then call 911 and provide local emergency officials with the person's precise location, a photo of the individual and a list of any medical conditions the person may have.
The new system already is up and running. Students, faculty and staff will be invited to start using it once classes resume in August.
Sam Lathrop, QU's director of safety and security, said he believes the new system will be an improvement over the old emergency alert system used on campus in recent years. It involves two so-called "blue boxes" that students, staff and campus visitors could use to place a radio call to the campus security office in an emergency.
Lathrop said the idea for a enhanced security system emerged after a group of students from the university's student council approached him several months ago saying they'd like to see more blue boxes on campus.
"We can do better than that," Lathrop said, noting now several new systems have come along since the blue boxes were put in place years ago.
"That technology was born prior to cellphones," Lathrop said. He felt a security alert system using cellphones would be the most effective way for QU students to summon help in an emergency.
"Our IT department tells me that 97 percent of our incoming freshmen will have a smartphone, and I suspect that number will only go up as the freshmen become seniors," he said. "Everybody carries their cellphone."
Lathrop checked out several different phone-based systems and decided to test the one developed by Denver-based MyForce.
"During our beta testing, we had some pretty tremendous results with this thing," he said. "But not only did it work really well during our testing, it works wherever the student, staff or faculty person goes. It doesn't matter if they go over to the Quincy Mall or if they're in Florida on spring break. As long as they have cellphone coverage, they have enhanced safety."
The system works by installing a special app on any iPhone, Android or Blackberry smartphone. When a person wants to activate the system -- or be ready to activate it on short notice -- the person merely calls up the app, and a large button appears in the center of the smartphone's touch-sensitive screen.
"It's almost like a panic button on the screen of your phone," said Becca Bijoch, who does public relations for MyForce. "The idea is, if you're walking across campus to your car or whatever, you arm MyForce. And then help is only one touch away. So if something happens, or you're feeling concerned for your safety if you're approached by someone, it's a one-touch alert that connects the user to the MyForce monitoring team."
Bijoch said it's like having "a mobile bodyguard."
Lathrop, a police officer for 32 years before he joined QU's office of safety and security last November, said he's impressed with the system's accuracy and functionality.
As part of this new security system, he noted, a "geo fence" using electronic markers was placed around the perimeter of the QU campus.
"If the MyForce monitor receives an alert and it's inside the fence, not only are they going to call (the Quincy Police Department) to respond, but they are also giving us a call simultaneously," Lathrop said. On-campus security officers, working around the clock, can then respond quickly to any on-campus situation.
Calls that come from beyond the fence will be handled by other emergency agencies with the proper jurisdiction, he said.
Students, staff and faculty members must pay a subscription fee to use the system. The fee ordinarily costs $11.99 a month or $119.99 a year. However, Bijoch said a special promo code for Herald-Whig readers -- QUINCYHW -- will knock $20 off the annual subscription fee.
To register, visit is.gd/myforce.