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Photo: Einar Aslaksen

Scholarship article

Raising the alarm

Motivated by a childhood tragedy, Stian Sandø has created a free security app that he hopes will help prevent acts of violence.

Flare is a free security app that allows users to warn other people in their vicinity that something is wrong with a simple press of their smartphone. It was conceived by a group of friends who were studying at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) after two young girls were raped in the vicinity of the university grounds in Trondheim.

“We want to make the world a better place,” says Stian Sandø, one of Flare’s co founders. “Our aim is to develop technology that connects people together in a way that makes it easier to search and look out for each other.”

The reason why this is so important to Sandø, he says, dates back to another terrible tragedy that happened two days before his 12th birthday. “A girlfriend who was just 13 was raped and murdered by two men and a 14-year old boy. After the initial shock and despair had subsided I felt great anger. I gradually started to think how simply it could have been avoided and then it struck me: If only one single person had been able to do something that could have been enough to save her life. That was the beginning of my long-standing determination to prevent rape.”

Its potential success, he acknowledges, is dependent on the people who receive a “Flare” signal actually being prepared to react. “Who can ignore a signal on their cell phone that a person within walking distance needs help? We’ve always been of the view that the vast majority of people will step up to the plate, and so far, experience has proved us right.”

Sandø studied Computer Science at NTNU. He cites Steve Jobs as one of his biggest inspirations. “I’m constantly looking to be influenced and inspired by other people and as such, I can never stand still,” he says. “This means that traveling to experience foreign countries and cultures is important for me.”

Before Flare was made public, it was tested on 6,500 students. The team has also had advice from police consultant Eirik Husby Sæther. One of the concerns is that the app is used by people to take the law into their own hands.

“Fortunately, all our experience so far, from both the trial period and from the advice we have been given by Eirik, is clear,” says Sandø. “Flare is quite simply viewed as a digital version of neighborhood watch – it’s there for when you need help or feel unsafe.

“For every incident we manage to stop, Flare is a personal success,” he adds. “Even if someone were to use the App to send a false alarm, there’d be no harm done. In the worst case scenario, you would get confirmation that someone actually cared, and that in itself can be enough.”

The Flare app is now available for the iPhone at the App Store, and an Android version, will soon be rolled out. 

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