Mobile Applications

'Safeture' app keeps travellers secure at the Olympics

The 2016 Olympics will commence in Rio de Janeiro on 5th August despite serious concerns about Rio’s Zika virus, security procedures and political unrest. All of this has had a knock-on-effect on ticket sales. As the Wall Street Journal reports, as of 1st August, around “79% of the 6.1 million tickets for the Rio Games” have been sold. But these figures are behind the previous two Olympic Games held in London and Beijing which “sold more than 95% of their seats”.

Still, the IOC predicts around 480,000 tourists will attend the Rio Olympics this year. With Rio being one of the most dangerous places in the world, how will the travellers keep safe? A Safeture app by the GWS company in Sweden has been updated specifically for the Rio Olympics to send real-time security alerts to travellers on their phone 24/7 and is downloadable on Android and iPhone. We speak with Andreas Rodman, CEO at GWS to find out more.


What do you think about the security risks in Rio right now?

They have [increased the amount of police] so are trying to keep a lid on crime at the Olympics. So even though it is a very dangerous area for tourists, at the same time we are seeing a lot of last minute changes. It's difficult to say as it could go either way. Rio does not have any experience of hosting huge tourist events like this and it’s possible that some organisations will use this as an opportunity as well. It could be really calm or some really bad things could happen. If I took a wild guess, I would say the crime levels will go down during the Olympics due to the number of police activities. It wouldn't surprise me at all if the government starts paying off some of the crime lords to lower the criminal activities during the Olympics.

How did the idea come about for the app?

The idea actually came from a professor at Lund University in Sweden who has personal experience with [major incidents] like the Mumbai attack in India and also the tsunami in Thailand. It’s based on his personal experience of getting information from people on the ground when there are major attacks and a lack of information with people very confused about what is going on.

A few years ago he contacted me and asked if I would be interested in starting a company to tackle this very issue. So we started up this company in 2009 and began looking at what the service should be, how it should work, etc. We started building both the technology to handle this to extract information globally 24/7 a day and also how to distribute it to the right people.

How do you see this app being useful at the Rio Olympics?

Rio happens to be one of the most dangerous areas in the world where they really need some good information but travellers are quite unaware of the dangers. For example, in April there were 500 homicides recorded just in that city alone and that's not counting the people that the police shot. It's just the people that had been murdered by criminals. So we thought there is a really big need and we have a lot of tourists travelling there. Let’s give them this service during the Olympics and also get some publicity to our service.

What sorts of incidents will you be expecting in Rio and how will the app fit into the picture?

We cover everything that might concern a security or safety risk for primarily international travellers. So from a disease outbreak to natural disasters and major demonstrations - anything that might affect the security and safety of the traveller being there. But we also cover other things like travel disturbances. Sometimes the media exaggerates events so we tell them 'Don’t worry this isn't a real threat, you can be quite safe'. We are trying to make the travel as easy as possible for the traveller not just from a security standpoint but also major disturbances.

Many people don't know the emergency ambulance numbers for different countries. They know their own country numbers but in this case the app will tell you. The next step is which hospital? This app can also quality grade each of the hospitals in Rio so the app knows which hospital will be able to handle a major emergency.  This was actually learnt from the tsunami in Thailand where people had minor injuries but went to the wrong hospital. Some went to the good hospitals and others went to the bad hospitals just a few kilometres away. And they actually got more problems for the maltreatment in the bad hospital than the injury itself.

What language do the app notifications appear in?

Right now we are running the service mainly in English. But we also have a section with 'country information'. For instance, what's happening in Rio Olympics. That information is available in a number of languages. The 24/7 alerts are in English but you can have it auto-translated.

How does the app warn a user if a situation is occurring nearby?

Whenever we publish an event, the system automatically sees which phones are in the region and those phones are alerted with a message. We classified all the events in green, yellow and red. Green and yellow get ordinary push notifications but red ones are pushed with an SMS as well to really get your attention about the situation. So when something serious happens, people receive an SMS on top of that because they are much more prone to look at the SMS directly.

Do you look at crime too?

Right now we are looking at major events. So if there is some shooting somewhere, we don't report that directly to you as we are not on that level. But let’s say one of the gangs starts a big war in Rio then we alert the user with a message saying, 'This is what's going on right now, stay away from this area'. It alerts on extraordinary events not everyday events. We have maps of the areas in Rio which are safe to wander around and those that are not. And then we have some more general information like kidnapper ransom and that type of thing

Are there any features you would like to add to the app that is not possible now?

We have an enormous list! One thing we are working on right now is providing more assistance on the ground. Currently there isn't a proper way of providing ground assistance because it is usually just directed straight to the police. Which is a problem because the police quality varies in each country. There are situations when you need an alternative. Currently that help on the ground is only available to high VIPs in big companies today and that is something we are working on. Our customers are really happy but from our point of view, we have just started!

How do people hear about you guys?

The majority of our users are white-labelled. For the consumer we have not done active marketing, it's mostly through word of mouth. A lot of people are looking for this solution but don't know we exist yet.


Also read:

Amnesty app records Rio gun crime ahead of Olympics

Data centres & VR at 2016 Rio Olympics

Is Brazil tech-ready for the 2016 Olympics?

Olympics 2016: Data, VR and the challenges of managing elite athletes


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Ayesha Salim

Ayesha Salim is Staff Writer at IDG Connect

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