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New apps help others know when we've made it home safely

SEATTLE -- We've all done it: We've promised family or a friend, we'd call and let them know that we made it home safely, but we forgot to call.

Now there's a new mobile web-based service that makes sure you never forget. It's called Kitestring and the founder said he created and launched the free service for his girlfriend to use when she walked home alone at night in San Francisco.

As a self defense instructor and Brooklyn native, Seattle business owner Joanne Factor hears that all the time.

"One woman was afraid to take a painting class in Belltown cause it ended at 8 o'clock at night," said Factor, owner at Seattle's Strategic Living.

For nearly 20 years, Factor has empowered women with self-defense strategies.

"I like seeing that ah-ha moment when they realize they have alternatives to being afraid and freezing," she said.

We wondered what she'd think about getting backup from an online service that checks up on you by showing her Kitestring, launched this year by MIT Grad student Stephan Boyer.

"It's a really good feeling that I built something that people find useful, "said Boyer during a Skype interview from his Boston dorm room.

Boyer created Kitestring in just 4 days. Since January, Boyer said 79,000 people have signed up for his service.

Kitestring users sign up online -- no smart phone needed.

"Even a dumb phone works," said Boyer.

The free service uses text messages to ask if you're okay, and if you don't respond, it alerts your designated contacts.

Let's give it a try

I texted my plans for a 5 minute walk on the UW campus to Kitestring. Five minutes later, Kitestring texted me back, asking if I was okay. I said ok. But if I do nothing it assumes I'm in trouble and sends an automatic alert to my designated contact.

Boyer calls Kitestring, "insurance."

"I don't look at it as insurance so much as reassurance," said Factor.

She pointed out what Kitestring, can't do.

"Let's say you don't make it where you're going, what does the person on the other end do?" wondered Factor. "So they know where you are? If you were assaulted? Where? On your path?" asked Factor.

But UW freshman Desiree Wiliams says she'd use the app.

"I live on north campus -- it's kind of woodsy over there and if I'm walking by myself, I'd have this app ready and waiting," she said.

Wiliams uses Motorola Alert's personal safety app on her smart phone. Grayson Baden relies on React Mobile. Their apps can pinpoint their location, call their contact -- who happens to be their mothers -- and dial the police, but...

"I have to unlock my phone, then click the app, then click the button so it slows the process down that is kind of a down side to this app," said Wiliams.

Kitestring users don't have to do a thing to get help. Something Desiree and Grayson like.

One caveat ... forgetting to do nothing can also alert and unnecessarily frighten your emergency contact. It's happened to Boyer, when his girlfriend forget to respond to a text message from Kitestring, checking on her status.

"I'd rather get false positives; too many alerts than not enough," said Boyer.

Factor said the apps tend to be pretty simple.

"That's good for ease of use," said Factor.

But she cautioned the best self-defense has multiple strategies, and an app is just one.

"The most commonly used self-defense strike is heel of the palm, boom to the face, grab on to the face," said Factor to a group of about 40 University of Washington freshman taking a one hour crash course in self-defense on campus last week.

Factor teaches physical moves to disable your attacker long enough for you to get away, but she insists good self-awareness can avoid an unwanted physical confrontation.

The instructor says in sketchy situations look for red flags, which can be anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. She insists three red flags in one situation and it's time to find a way to exit.

And then there's the good advice from 18-year-old college freshman Grayson Baden: "Protecting women isn't a woman's responsibility it's every person's responsibility."

Kitestring's founder says in addition to women, his users include family of senior citizens, realtors, online daters and back country enthusiasts.

For More Information:

KiteString App
NotAlone.gov
Strategic Living
Motorola Alert React Mobile

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