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Hyperlocal mobile alert app for police

Using industry-leading geo-fencing and geo-targeting, mobile alerts to citizens can become more accurate, more relevant, more meaningful, and more actionable

Alerts broadcast from police agencies to citizens’ mobile phones are not new.  I wrote about Nixle just a couple of months ago, and have covered this type of technology a handful of times over the past half a decade.  Well, another such solution has come onto my radar, and it definitely merits some attention in this space. 

I’ll give you the bottom line right up front: Ping4 takes the mobile phone alert system to a totally different level. 

Unlike some of the other plain-text-only alert solutions to which I have been privy, the Ping4 system — available on both iPhone and Android platforms — has some pretty sophisticated multimedia capabilities, as well as an industry-leading geo-targeting/geo-fencing suite.  Let’s tackle these two things one at a time.

Technology Differentiators
They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  I think “they” may be underestimating somewhat, because in my view, putting video and images into the hands of citizens is a force multiplier which defies definition.  Way beyond simple text alerts which have been in use for years now, the Ping4 system is capable of transmitting video footage from a surveillance camera or still images from any other source and transmitting that information to citizens who subscribe to the Ping4 service. 

Let me provide a hypothetical which illustrates this capability.  Two days, ago I attended a ballgame between my San Francisco Giants and the visiting Texas Rangers at AT&T Park.  It was a lovely day at the yard, with families filling the seats and fun generally had by all.  During the game, I visited with a couple of the uniformed security personnel and asked them how they would work with SFPD in the event of a lost child.  I asked, “Would help if every single parent out there had a picture of the lost kid so they could have their head on a swivel looking for him or her?” 

They quickly replied, “Yeah, it would.” 

With Ping4, that’s precisely what you can do.  The parent of that lost kid can send a picture from their mobile phone to the police department, which can then generate the appropriate alert, and transmit it to just the people in the stadium.  Therefore, the PD can deliver important information selectively to just the citizens whose location is relevant.  Not the people in the various stores and restaurants outside of the stadium grounds — just those folks actually in the ballpark. 

This brings me to the second “differentiator” which jumps out at me when I look at the Ping4 solution — these guys have build some amazing geo-targeting/geo-fencing tools.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen their equal. 

When the person at the police department begins to create a given alert, they have the option to designate a very specific area on the map where he or she wants to the alert to be “broadcast.”  Therefore, any mobile phone within that area which has the Ping4 app will then get the alert, whereas phones outside that area will not.  This is accomplished via a proprietary combination of geo-location capabilities in both the GPS and cellular networks.  This target area can be as large as a country, or a small as a ten foot by ten foot elevator shaft. 

This is called ‘hyperlocal” targeting. 

“By being able to hyper target areas impacted by severe weather or other situations,” says a Ping4 company document, “alerts become more accurate, more relevant, and therefore more meaningful. Hyperlocal alerts will be taken more seriously.” 

Whereas traditional alerts systems are ineffective for reaching visitors to your jurisdiction, hyperlocal alerts such as the Ping4 solution enable a PD to reach anyone who enters the jurisdiction. This capability is particularly handy for cities like my adopted hometown of San Francisco, where we have lots of tourists, visitors, and transient workforce who come to do business here for just a week or less at a time. 

The Ping4 alert system can actually “wake up” a mobile device within that defined geo-fence.  Whereas televisions can’t automatically turn on and warn sleeping citizens in the middle of the night that a tornado warning has been issued, but the Ping4 alert system can even bypass the mute and other audio preferences in the case of extreme emergencies.  So even if the phone in that fence is set to “silent” while a citizen sleeps, the sender of the alert can override that, wake the phone up, and provide that person with a potentially life-saving safety alert (you’d be surprised how many people die in tornados while they’re asleep, for example). 

Looking Ahead
Ping4 was founded in 2011 by former U.S. Senate candidate Jim Bender (whose business ventures have also included a number of successful companies), and spent a good year or more quietly developing the solution.  They first made it available to the market in early 2012, and in just a few short months have added several fairly big law enforcement customers. 

In March, for example, Chief Dave Mara of the Manchester (N.H.) Police Department said in a company press release, “We are pleased to be among the first public safety agencies in the country to offer this important and meaningful Smartphone application for the safety and protection of our community.”

Last week, the company announced another new customer — the Blackstone (Mass.) Police Department — which probably could have used the service a year ago when a series of terrible tornados touched down.  Chief Ross Atstupenas of the Blackstone Police Department explained, “We can attach images, videos and other rich media files to clearly portray the gravity of the situation. ...During last year’s tornado season we found that cell phones worked even when we lost electricity and this app would have come in handy then.”

Just yesterday, Ping4 officially announced that the company has secured $1.1 million in equity financing, according to documents filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. The reason I bring up these last points is that taken together, one can surmise that the company looks like it is going to be around for the long haul.

I first learned about Ping4 via a mutual friend, spoke with a couple of company representatives via phone soon thereafter, and the ultimately had a cup of coffee with company CEO Jim Bender here in San Francisco just shy of a month ago.  If your PD does not yet use a mobile phone alert system, I would suggest giving these folks a little bit of your time.  They may or may not be the solution you end up selecting, but they should definitely be on the short list of potential candidates. 

Check out the video below for more information about the Ping4 alert system. 

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