Women’s Center and Shelter Launches App to Help Save Lives

by Ashley Johnson, Courier Staff Writer
February 26, 2014
Visit the New Pittsburgh Courier for full article with photos

The Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh has been reaching out to women and children who are victims of domestic violence for four decades. Each year, through their services and programs, they serve more than 7,000 people; but now, through their new innovative tool, they can offer the gift of safety to even more.This month the center is launching their new RUSafe App, which helps users identify if they are in at-risk situation for domestic violence. The App, which is free to iPhone and Android users, helps to assess one’s level of danger through a series a questions about his or her relationship.

“I’m really excited about the launch of the App. With people using so many Apps today for so many different things, I think this is just another way to try to reach people that we might not have contact with,” said Shirl Regan, president and CEO of WC&S. “It is another way to help people become safe. Anybody can use it anytime and you can share it with everybody.”

The App, which was quietly launched in January and is now available to the public, was developed by the WC&S through a partnership with Newton Consulting and is an extension of the Pittsburgh’s December implementation of the Maryland Lethality Assessment Program (LAP).

The implementation of LAP is to prevent domestic violence homicides, serious injuries and re-assaults by encouraging victims to use shelters, counseling and support services of domestic violence programs. WC&S has teamed up with City Council and Pittsburgh Police. Now when officers are called to what is believed to be a domestic violence call, they administer an 11-point lethality assessment. If the person scores high, officers encourage the victims to seek help.

“We wanted to make these questions available to anyone no matter where they were,” said Regan.

While many organizations use the same questions, Regan said she believes that WC&S is the first program to make it available in an App form.

According to WC&S, in December 2013, their hotline answered 71 calls from police officers assisting victims and spoke to 61 of those individuals. In January of this year, they answered 111 calls and spoke to 91 victims.

The way the RUSafe App works is that users are asked a series of question, once completed it calculates the responses and, if there is a cause for concern, it allows them to call WC&S’ 24-hour hotline. If there is immediate danger, the user can directly call 9-1-1.

“Often when women look at these questions and realize their answers are more yes than no, they then want to talk to somebody. We find the material in the App is a great conversation starter and as a way to help women start looking at putting together a safety plan.”

While it is an assessment, Regan said, she doesn’t want to say that the App can tell a person exactly if they are in danger, because nothing can be exact.

“And one of the ways we think this could be helpful is if you have a friend that you are worried about, you might be able to share this App with them, or if you want to educate someone, you can share the App with someone, of if you’re in a medical setting you may want to share the App with one of your patients. It’s another way of getting the word out,” she said.

Regan said the App took two-and-a-half to three months to develop. She said Newton Consulting donated their time and put it together.

“When we learned about this project, we became very excited about the opportunity to help figure out the application concept with the center staff, and then provide the technology services to bring their vision to reality,” said Phil Kossler, director of Application Development and Mobile Solutions at Newton Consulting.

“The idea that a person can self assess their risk using RUSafe and have direct contact to the shelter hotline in the palm of their hands, at their moment of need – that’s an empowering solution,” said Kossler.

“Nearly everyone has a smart phone these days. The immediate accessibility to this app from any place at any time changes the paradigm and will hopefully make a difference in the lives of those at risk.”

The App is free, easy to download, simple to use and worth it; it could be the key to saving someone’s life.

For more information on domestic violence or the WC&S’ services, contact 412-687-8017 or visit http://www.wcspittsburgh.org.