SafetyGrid: Voice and SMS broadcasting to the rescue!

With a Twilio-powered voice and SMS broadcasting app, SafetyGrid provides families with peace of mind.

SafetyGrid voice and sms broadcastingU.S. Army Sergeant Jim Hankins has been on a mission to use technology to improve personal safety ever since he lost a friend on September 11.

The day of attack, Hankins’ friend Randy was working as a contractor at the World Trade Center. “After American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower, Randy called his wife and let her know he was ok,” Hankins recalled. But as Randy tried to leave the site, Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower, and Randy was fatally injured by falling debris.
Randy was missing for days, while his family frantically tried to find him. He ended up dying alone in an area hospital.

A senior network architect who had served in the U.S. Army during Operation Desert Storm, Hankins knew that the technology existed to help people like Randy and their families. After all, the military used a combination of GPS and mobile telephony for everything from keeping tabs on soldiers in the field to delivering bunker-busting bombs in Baghdad.

“You could say my first experience with a location-based app was a multiple launch rocket system,” Hankins joked.

Hankins knew the military gear — multimillion dollar digital communications vehicles and satellites — was far too expensive for consumer use. Still he couldn’t get its power to help a person in danger out of his mind.

After leaving the military, Hankins spent more than a decade delivering unified communications systems for Fortune 500 companies. As he worked on huge telecom projects, for example, updating a Centrex system with modern PBX technology, Hankins’ dream of democratizing urgent notifications took shape. He knew that at some point the technology for location-based apps and mobile telephony would become small enough and cheap enough to help ordinary people.

Twilio puts voice and SMS broadcasting within reach

By 2009, Hankins realized that moment had arrived. Thanks to the rebel group of geeks that created Twilio, voice and SMS broadcasting was within reach of anyone with a Web connection. And thanks to the explosive popularity of the iPhone, ordinary consumers had the devices they needed to run the new telephony apps.

In 2011, Hankins launched SafetyGrid, a voice and SMS broadcasting app for the iPhone and iPad. Press the SafetyGrid panic button, and your friends and family are instantly notified that you need help. (NOTE: SafetyGrid is not an alternative to 911) SafetyGrid also offers a subscription to the GEOS rescue service, which offers individual and corporate protection along with international search and rescue for $119 per year.

Hankins figured his target market was parents who are concerned about the safety of their children, children who are concerned about the safety of their parents, nervous spouses, and international travelers.

Hankins said SafetyGrid quickly achieved his goal of helping people in trouble. Soon after the app launched, a SafetyGrid customer got forced off the road while driving outside of Houston by an armed gunman who repeatedly bumped her car. The woman pressed the SafetyGrid panic button and the monitoring team steered her to safety.

How Hankins built the SafetyGrid app:

SafetyGrid is built with Xcode, a suite of tools for developing software on the Mac OS X. On the server side, Hankins used Coldfusion and PHP. Twilio powers the voice and SMS broadcasting service, connecting a SafetyGrid subscriber with his or her emergency contacts and a monitoring service via voice and SMS notifications the minute the panic button is pressed.

Hankins said it took less than four hours to add voice and SMS broadcasting to his app. “It was incredibly easy to integrate our existing application logic to the Twilio service,” Hankins said. “The documentation was truly outstanding.”

Hankins said he initially tried to use a different solution, but was unhappy with the support provided to developers building custom apps. “We came across Twilio’s service, and it was immediately apparent they were serious about supporting developers,” he said.