Students use Wildfire app to discuss campus safety

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Photo Credit: Annette Meyer | Daily Texan Staff

Haley Walker, management information systems senior, downloaded Wildfire after receiving an email about the app saying users were discussing University House breaking leases. She said the app has been helpful, especially from a campus safety standpoint.

“Safety is probably one of (Wildfire’s) strong suits,” Walker said. “I’ve only been using it for about a week now, but from the University House scandal that was going on to all those robberies that were happening around Subway, it is a really good and quick way to hear what is going on around campus.”

Wildfire is a mobile app that was launched in the fall of 2016 after its creator, Hriday Kemburu, posted on Facebook about closely escaping a mugging while he was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. The app provides real-time notifications to its users about any incidents that happen on or near campus as well as an option to post in their college’s feed about other campus-related topics.

Over the past five years, the University has conducted independent studies regarding safety applications and how they can be incorporated on campus. One of the problems with apps such as Wildfire is that the information being shared does not go through a vetting process, said Jimmy Johnson, interim associate vice president for Campus Safety and Security.

“One of the issues with anything that uses crowdsourcing is that there is no way to validate the information getting put in,” Johnson said. “If somebody puts ‘I was robbed at gunpoint,’ there is nothing to validate it and I don’t know if that’s actually true or somebody is just trying to create hysteria.”

Walker said even though Wildfire is a good platform to report any incidents, it comes with drawbacks such as a limited audience.

“To only be posting on Wildfire, you’re not really reaching the full potential of the student body yet and you have to encourage people to adopt this app,” Walker said. “(Also) with an app such as Wildfire, where there is self-reporting, you always run the risk of people causing more hysteria.”

Johnson also pointed out that there were some inconsistencies between the information being reported on Wildfire and the University Police Department’s text alerts. He said that while these apps are important, the best way to inform the UT community of any criminal activity is by calling 911.

“We always encourage people, ‘See something, say something,’” Johnson said. “We have found, based on historical data, most of the time people utilizing apps such as (Wildfire) are failing to notify the authorities. So while this information is good, we can’t take any type of proactive or reactive approach to it from a law enforcement perspective.”

The app launched at UC Berkeley and is being used by students on 10 other college campuses, including UT. Marketing senior Audra Fields said a safety app that provides student-to-student communication about incidents on campus would be a good resource for UT students.

“I feel like (student-to-student communication) is more rapid and I think there is more transparency,” Fields said. “It is understandable why law enforcement might not want to reveal all this information to students all the time … but I think all of our friends and all of our college peers will be a little more transparent.”