Two tragedies — a mass campus shooting and a murder — near Northern Illinois University inspired an NIU alum-turned-Chicago inventor to create a mobile panic button.
Emergency alert stations, where students can walk up and press a button to summon campus police, dotted the campus when Joe Parisi, 26, of Lakeview, was a student at Northern Illinois University. During his time there, on Valentine’s Day 2008, a lone gunman took the lives of five students and himself inside a lecture hall on campus. The same alert station system was in place when Antinette "Toni" Keller was killed near campus, her badly burned body found by police days later.
But Parisi wondered: If students could carry panic buttons that immediately alert police on or off campus, could such tragedies be avoided?
"I think that what we've developed is going to be the new standard for what all other security measures on campus will be measured against to get people help at any given time," he said.
Parisi is the CEO of EduProtect, a Chicago-based company he and fellow NIU grads founded in the wake of Keller's slaying. The concept — which he is currently attempting to fund through a $20,000 Indiegogo campaign — is to create a keychain-sized device that, when activated, will alert law enforcement of the user’s GPS location, photo and physical description using their cellphone signal.
He said the idea for the system heavily was inspired by the Keller case, in which he believes a device like EduProtect would have helped police find the 18-year-old much sooner.
The device works like this: With the press of the device's button, the user's information — including where they are — is transmitted with the aid of a cellphone to a private dispatch center in Springfield. In turn, the dispatch center alerts the proper authorities to the reported emergency.
Parisi said what gives the device an edge is that the cellphone that automatically transmits the alert can be kept covert. The one limitation is that users will not be able to give authorities the nature of their emergency.
"It's understood that this product is for emergency situations, it's not for the party down the road, the cat in the tree,” he said. “It’s a situation where you are in danger right now and the only thing that’s going to make me feel better is a police officer."
Parisi is hoping to raise $20,000 to fund the initial startup costs of manufacturing the remote devices, called EduRemotes. The company is offering discounted subscription plans and free remote devices to early funders. Those who donate at certain levels of $60 or more will also allow the company to donate an EduRemote and a year of service to a Chicago Public School student in a high-risk neighborhood.
"I know what we have built has the ability to save lives," Parisi said. The company is currently working on version two of their software, which will have the ability to covertly record audio and video on a user’s smartphone when the system is activated. The audio and video will be transmitted to police to be used as evidence.
"It just gives them a few extra pieces that might help them solve the case," he said.
Benedictine University Chief of Police Mike Salatino, who consulted with the company during development, said he believes the technology will improve response times in certain situations.
"We're talking about inside a dorm room, in a parking lot," he said. "There are areas on campus where this would expedite a response from emergency service personnel."
Though the system — which will carry a $10 a month subscription price — is currently marketed toward students, Parisi said the device will work anywhere where a cellphone gets service.
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