Monday, July 22

Cal-designed emergency alert app Wildfire spreads to UCLA

Wildfire is a real-time alert application that cautions users about nearby public emergencies through email or phone notifications. (Miriam Bribiesca/Photo editor)

Wildfire is a real-time alert application that cautions users about nearby public emergencies through email or phone notifications. (Miriam Bribiesca/Photo editor)

UCLA students can now download an emergency alert application created by University of California, Berkeley, alumni.

Wildfire, an application created by UC Berkeley alumni Hriday Kemburu, Tim Hyon, Jay Patel and Vinay Ramesh, delivers real-time safety alerts about dangerous situations, such as a mugging or a shooting, through emails and phone notifications.

Wildfire posts emergency information from local newspapers and UC Berkeley university police. Users can also post about emergencies they witness on the app, which are then shared with the community.

The Wildfire team said the app has more than 13,000 users from the UC Berkeley campus area. The team members said they also plan to expand the app’s services to the University of Southern California and other colleges. The team said they chose to expand to UCLA because many Wildfire users from Berkeley have friends at UCLA, and they believed it could be equally successful.

The founders of Wildfire created the app because they were unsatisfied with UC Berkeley’s WarnMe alert system, which they believe does not notify students quickly enough.

“The muggings seemed to happen on a nightly basis,” Ramesh said. “We realized there is a need for a better safety alert system because what is out there today isn’t really cutting it.”

Kemburu said he was also motivated to start the app when someone attempted to mug him last year. After the incident, Kemburu posted about it on UC Berkeley’s “Free & For Sale” Facebook page, warning fellow students of possible danger in the area. The post received a lot of attention from students who said they were grateful about the warning.

Last fall, Wildfire warned more than 4,000 people within a mile radius of a shooting incident three blocks away from UC Berkeley’s campus.

Wildfire can be used as an alternative to BruinAlert, UCLA’s emergency message system, the founders said. However, they said they do not want to be a substitute for BruinAlert.

Though BruinAlert has sent students notifications about emergencies for years, students remain divided on its effectiveness.

Quynh Nguyen, a third-year biology student said she thinks BruinAlert isn’t as effective as community-driven resources, such as Facebook.

She has seen many warnings from students posted on student Facebook groups regarding burglaries, break-ins and suspicious activities, but BruinAlert seems to ignore these criminal activities. She added she thinks BruinAlert gives people information that is too general.

BruinAlert uses sources such as the university police, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles Fire Department to verify reports. However, BruinAlert only sends out alerts when the emergency has been completely verified by officials. In comparison, Wildfire posts notifications without waiting for verification and marks them as verified and unverified.

Some students said they would be interested in downloading the app as an alternative to BruinAlert.

“(Wildfire) would be useful for the Westwood community, not just students,” said Fatima Donato, a third-year biology student. “BruinAlert is helpful but … other sources were more prompt than BruinAlert. If Wildfire could speed up the process, … it’d be great.”

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