Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Idea for an App to keep Trempistim Safe


Since Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali went missing on Thursday night, there has been a debate on the safety of Tremping in Israel.

Since I first came to Israel over 25 years ago, one of the things that impressed me about Israeli society was the culture of tremping, the idea that we are all one big family and are all looking out for each other. When I was in Yeshiva in Efrat I regularly traveled by tremp, and now that I have my own car, whenever possible I pick up trempistim.

During the Oslo War when there were many tragic bus bombings, no one suggested that we should stop all buses in Israel, rather people said that we have to find ways to make buses safer. Similarly now, it has been encouraging that people are discussing ways to make tremping safer. Life in Israel is reporting that there is a new Moked for emergencies in Yehuda-Shomron (1208), I also saw a new app today with a panic button in case of emergency.

These solutions are important and all trempistim should be aware of them. The problem is that it is a safe assumption that if someone is abducted, one of the first things the captors would do would be to get rid of the trempist’s cell phone, possibly before they have a chance to place an emergency call.

Here is my idea for an app that would help keep trempistim safe. I am not a developer and have no idea what would be involved in creating such an app, if you have the ability to create the app, feel free to take my idea.

The app would work as follows -

Trempistim would register to use the app and select codes (as described below).

When a tempist sets out on a journey he (or she) logs in and says what Tzomet they are tremping from and where there destination is. When they get home safely, or get dropped off at a different tzomet closer to their destination, they log in with their new current location, or report that they arrived safely and log out.

From the time that the trempist logs onto the system, they receive a message every 10 minutes asking them how they are. Each time they get a message they have one minute to reply with a code that they set up for one of the following responses:

- I'm still waiting at the tzomet for a temp
- I'm safely in a tremp traveling towards my destination
- I am safely at my destination, please log me out

For each of these responses, if they enter a code one digit off, it sends an emergency signal.
If they don't respond within 1 minute the app automatically sends an emergency signal.

This means that an emergency signal would be sent out within 10 minutes of an abduction, even if the phone has been disposed of, but there would be no indication on the phone that a signal was sent

When an emergency signal is sounded, the app automatically contacts any other trempistim who were logged in from the same area, as well as contacting registered volunteers who are within a 5 km area of the trempist.

Volunteers would have to register in advance, but would include not only army vehicles and police, but the private security officers in each Yishuv, Hatzalah, ambulances, and other emergency services as well as volunteer citizens.

Volunteers in the area would initially be instructed to try to locate the phone. It is possible that the distress code was entered by mistake or the phone was accidentally dropped or broken which is why the trempist didn't respond. Volunteers would have an “all Clear” code that they can enter if they can confirm that all is well.

If the phone is found abandoned, or volunteers are unable to locate the phone within a few minutes, an urgent SOS goes out to all volunteers with detailed information - location, and personal details of the trempist including a photo. This would allow security personal to erect checkpoints within 20 minutes of a suspected abduction and put other volunteers on the lookout for suspicious behaviour.

This would hopefully avoid the fiasco that is being reported that there was a communication breakdown and it took several hours between the distress call and the army being made aware of the situation.

If anyone can see any obvious flaws in my idea or way to improve it, feel free to leave a comment. If anyone has the resources to develop such an app, I give full permission to use this idea for non-commercial purposes with the objective of keeping our people safe.

May the IDF with the help Hashem quickly bring back or boys.


Asher said...

Micharel, you asked for a list of flaws? Well, you shouldn't have asked a software tester :-)

My list so far:

How do we authenticate who is using the system to prevent people registering and then sending false reports of kidnappings?

How do we handle cell phone dead zones?

For that matter, what about human error of people who forget to check in?

What about power consumption? If I'm going to be stuck traveling (especially when hitchhiking), the last thing that I want is another app running draining my phone's power. I would rather save it for an emergency phone call.

Still, it's a great idea.

Michael Sedley said...

Thanks Asher, great points.

See my follow up about an app for drivers which eliminates some of these issues.

The problem of people registering and abusing the system may need to be addressed by having a authentication process to register, e.g., registering through a school or via the Katzin Bitachon in the Yishuv.

If drivers are also registered, when a driver picks up a trempist, the system could send both of them a photo of each other to confirm that they are who they say they are. The system could also confirm that both cell phones are in close proximity with each other. Once driver and trempist have both been confirmed as legitimate, there would be no reason to keep sending updates every 10 minutes, so that would eliminate part of the issue of areas with no cell phone reception.

In addition, if a trempist gets into a car and reports that all is well, the system should be able to follow the journey and take into account known areas with poor reception.

Human error is possibly the biggest problem, either forgetting to check in, mistyping a code and accidentally triggering an alert, or having problems with the phone.
That's why initially the system wouldn't send a high-priority SOS, rather a "Find that Phone" message to other trempistim or other people in the immediate area. If after 5-10 minutes no one can find the trempist, or find the phone abandoned, that's when the app would send in the cavalry to set up road blocks.

With regard to power drainage, I have no idea how much juice an app like this would suck up - I would think far less than many other apps or even checking email, but if users are worried about battery life, they could log out of the system - no one is forcing them to use it.

Please send me any other potential issues that would need to be addressed.