Wildfire, an emergency notification app, has launched at Syracuse University beginning this fall.
Students at the University of California, Berkeley created Wildfire specifically for college campuses. The app categorizes by subjects, such as safety, tips and student problems. Though branded as an emergency communications app, users can also share posts categorized as memes or chatter.
“Our goal is to build safer, more informed communities focused on spreading useful, factual, and timely information,” said Wildfire CEO and cofounder Hriday Kemburu, in an email to The Daily Orange.
A Syracuse community member requested that Wildfire come to SU. That person’s name, however, could not be disclosed, Kemburu said. Despite the app’s success in alerting students of events and potentially dangerous situations, SU does not officially endorse the app and cannot verify the information sent through it.
The chief of Department of Public Safety Bobby Maldonado said he’s worried about misinformation being spread through Wildfire. Maldonado said he is prepared to respond to safety concerns spread on Wildfire.
“Our biggest concern is that there is no real way to check the veracity of the information, other than to go out to a location and see that it in fact occurred,” Maldonado said.
Since the app’s creation, Wildfire has alerted 4,000 UC Berkeley students of a shooting near their campus, and 11,000 students that Golden State Warriors player Kevin Durant was on campus, Kemburu said. Classes at the University of California, Davis were cancelled after students used Wildfire to spread a petition about the air quality during the California wildfires in November 2018.
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All information sent out through Wildfire is crowdsourced, meaning it comes from the app’s users. A team of moderators confirms the reliability of the information, Kemburu said. Notifications are chosen based on user engagement with posts and a moderator’s ability to confirm the information in the post.
While most campus communication systems are “one channel” — where users are unable to interact with those sending notifications — Wildfire allows students to interact with each other on and follow up on posts with additional information, videos and photos, Kemburu said.
SU’s official emergency notification system is Orange Alert. The university uses the alerts in the event of major incidents on campus, including weather events or campus closures, Maldonado said.
Orange Alert has not been used to notify students of a crime in about four years, Maldonado said. Instead, when a crime happens near campus, DPS sends emails to the student body alerting them of the incident. Because crime alerts are sent via email, Maldonado said Orange alerts are more serious.
Kemburu started Wildfire after he was mugged outside of a UC Berkeley library. He posted on Facebook to alert students of the situation and realized that only his network of friends would be made aware of the situation.
Wildfire connects entire communities, unlike other social networks that only connect friends and family, Kemburu said. An SU student recently posted a notification on the app regarding fentanyl-laced marijuana with an attached screenshot of the warning posted on Instagram. About 1,2000 Wildfire users saw the notification.
“If it’s important enough, a notification is sent out to everyone in that location,” Kemburu said.
Published on August 27, 2019 at 11:09 pm
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