MRU Now app aims to increase security and safety at university
By Ryleigh Stangness, Staff Writer
Kim Cousineau, a risk analyst at MRU, has been working closely with app developers since 2018 to optimize and tailor the new security app, MRU Now, for students to access safety features and resources. An MRU alumni herself, Cousineau says she hopes students will get the benefits of the app that she would have found useful during her time here as a student.
She explains that this app was a risk management initiative, and it is a separate initiative from the recent overhaul of MRU’s security system which was nearly two decades old.
Although risk management works closely with the MRU security department to respond to incidents such as injuries, ambulances and property damage, this app is not solely intended for security — it aims to get information and resources to students about residence information, safety concerns, emergencies, resources, wellness and safety tools. It was implemented to address “a gap in immersive notifications and an emergency-addressing app essentially,” explains Cousineau.
Cousineau says they are trying to reach more students, although they are seeing the number of downloads increasing consistently.
Cousineau says they are constantly updating the app, and looking for feedback, while engaging with SAMRU president Shayla Breen for student perspectives.
“We’re trying to add as much value as we can to it and not make it another app that people download and they get a bunch of push notifications … What we want, is for it to really add value and to provide students easy access to resources,” explains Cousineau.
The app has 12 icons upon opening: offering options to call security, request a SafeWalk, report tips or incidents, campus safety, information on emergency procedures (information which is also posted in classrooms), requesting push notifications for East or West residences, campus map and health and wellness resources.
The campus safety icon, directs you to crisis resources such as sexual violence response, human rights advising, crisis counselling and environmental health.
Cousineau points out that many of the other features are offered on the MRU website, but the app is more mobile friendly and accessible. “We want to make sure that all those sources are there, rather than having to open up a browser and go looking for them.”
Crisis counseling resources, student counseling and wellness services want to make sure that, as a student, you know that those services are available so that they’re being utilized, explains Cousineau.
Cousineau points to recent events at the neighbouring University of Calgary, with an incident involving a paper mache gun rifle. The incident led to many students questioning the value of university’s app, with a regular abundance of seemingly irrelevant notifications, but yet no information notified students about the potential risk of a shooter.
She says, although it is difficult to say what MRU would do in a similar situation, there are some takeaways from this incident about what students want from an app.
“The biggest thing is timely notifications during emergencies for things like floods, fires, mass campus closures and things like that. We want people to know about those things in a timely fashion,” Cousineau says.
MRU is also using the app to communicate about re drills. “One of people’s biggest complaints is with re drills. They don’t know when to go back in. Students who are busy … faculty members get really frustrated when they’re standing around outside looking around going, ‘I don’t know, is it over? Can I go back in?’ We’re trying to use it for those timely notifications to say, ‘Okay, the fire drill is over. It’s time to go back in,’” explains Cousineau.
Using the app in residence
Cousineau hypothesizes the app will be especially useful to students living on campus. There is a careful balance to make sure the information is succinct, but also relevant.
“It will be used for communicating when there’s an emergency in the building or ‘Hey, it’s -20, close your window. Don’t hang your clothes on the sprinkler lines in your room,’ and things like that. There’s that tailored piece toward residents.”
However, Cousineau says that it also has value for non- residents at MRU. Cousineau says, “I think any student could nd some benefit.”
A new feature, unique to the app is Friend Walk, says Cousineau.
“There’s SafeWalk and most people know what that is, but rather than calling security and asking security to walk you to your car or walk you to class, you can actually send your location to somebody in your contact list.”
She explains that whoever opens the link you send “can watch you in real time and they can text with you on your way to your car or residence.”
Cousineau says she can relate her experience as a student and seeing the need for a feature like this.
“Personally for me, having been a university student for a long time, I never would have reached out to security. I hate to say that, but I would have texted a friend and said, ‘Can you stay on the phone with me? Can you, you know, just make sure I get back?’”
Cousineau says they are consistently tweaking the app for user experience but they have even more plans for future features.
“We’re hoping to eventually be doing wayfinding, where it’ll actually tell you where you are and where you need to go,” Cousineau says. “I remember what it’s like to be a rst year university student … they’re completely lost. I know we’re not a huge campus, but it can be intimidating.”