Yalies develop app that innovates public safety, 911 services
A new app launched by Yalies aims to change how schools and 911 centers across the country address emergencies.
Christian Robles, Contributing Photographer
Former Yale student Michael Chime, along with co-founders Neal Soni ’24 and Dylan Gleicher ’23, has launched an app that aims to change how schools and 911 centers across the country address emergencies.
The Prepared app allows teachers, students, school administrators and security officers to quickly report and share information during medical and security emergencies. Each teacher or administrator in a participating school downloads the Prepared app and receives training on how to use it, so they can notify each other when emergencies arise. The idea is to replace traditional school communication systems — such as walkie-talkies and PA systems — with a streamlined cell phone app.
“Our key insight was: Why don’t you just rely on the devices that we all have in our pockets, and then we use for communication every day?” Chime said.
Another feature of the app allows people to send 911 dispatchers live videos of emergency situations. Prepared is currently being deployed in New Haven Public Schools and New Haven’s Public Service Answering Point, the city’s 911 call center.
Chime said that the founders’ life experiences had motivated them to address a need for better emergency response systems in schools.
In 2012, Chime’s school in Chardon, Ohio, a small rural town outside of Cleveland, went into lockdown because of an active mass shooting in the town over. Chime said he knew the mother of one of the six students who died in that shooting.
Soni and Gleicher were students in Westport schools during the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre.
Chime and his friends began working on the Prepared app in 2018. At the time, Chime was a political science major and defensive tackle for the Yale football team. He was originally a member of the Grace Hopper College class of 2021 before he dropped out of Yale in 2020.
Chime said the group was talking about new technologies that could be used to address school security issues in Grace Hopper one night. After some discussions, the three students submitted a proposal to Startup Yale. They won the $25,000 Miller Prize, an award for the best student-led tech venture.
The Prepared app’s software allows each school to customize it to their own needs. Each school can input their particular emergency response protocols, so the app’s main role is to communicate those instructions to staff. Prepared has now launched in over 200 schools across the country, in cities spanning from Sacramento to New Haven. The founders said they received feedback from schools that the app is especially helpful in communicating protocols during monthly drills.
Since its inception, the Prepared app has been working on improvements. In one instance, Chime acquired GPS, photo and multimedia data from a few Cleveland-area schools. He asked a local 911 dispatcher if they could take in the information, but they explained that they lacked the infrastructure to take in the data. Through similar conversations around the country, the Prepared app team started to work on ways to innovate how 911 centers operate.
In 2018, more than 80 percent of calls to 911 centers came from mobile devices, but these calls are still treated as landlines, according to software developer RapidSOS. According to Chime, the system for calling 911 has not changed much in its 50-year history since the first call to 911 in 1968.
In the past four months, the founders have worked to modernize how 911 centers take in information. With their new software, anyone who calls 911 today in New Haven will be directed to a link that allows them to livestream video or send text to 911 dispatchers.
Chime said that this software was used last week in Nye County, Nevada, to livestream a video of an unconscious person in order to teach the caller how to do CPR in real time.
“Later that shift, dispatch was notified that the patient was revived and was doing fine,” Ashley Castillo, Nye County’s chief dispatcher, said. “Without doing correct, effective CPR, this patient would not be here today.”
The New Haven Public Schools system has also launched a test of the app. The app’s launch at NHPS was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is being implemented for the first time this academic year.
According to Tessa Gumbs-Johnson, the district supervisor for professional learning, almost all NHPS school administrators were trained to use the app in May.
Chime told the News that he originally intended to take time off of Yale to focus on developing the app. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Chime applied for the Thiel Fellowship — a $100,000 award for college students “who want to build new things instead of sit in a classroom.” Grant awardees are required to drop out of college.
“I applied originally as a joke,” Chime said. “We just sent in an application, we didn’t spend much time on it at all, maybe two hours … and it’s a bunch of interviews that you go through.”
During one part of the application process, a film crew arrived at Chime’s Ohio home to interview his parents.
When they arrived, Chime told his mother that the film crew may bring up the fact that he would have to drop out of college to win the award. His mother was not happy with the prospect.
“The first question [the film crew] asked was, ‘How do you feel about him dropping out of school?’ You can see my mom staring at [my dad], and so you know he had to answer. He’s like, ‘I’m devastated,’” Chime said.
After the interview, Chime said he thought that there was no way he was going to win the grant. However, Chime’s parents eventually became more receptive to the idea of him dropping out of Yale, and he soon won the award.
Moving forward, the founders said they hope to expand the new software for 911 dispatchers and broaden the app’s use to encompass every building within a city.
“If you can connect them all into one platform, you really have a [much] safer city where you can respond to emergencies together, as opposed to isolated people that can’t communicate with each other,” Soni said.
The founders plan to announce new opportunities for more cities to implement the app in their 911 centers at a conference for dispatchers in Las Vegas on Sept. 27.