Lone workers such as social workers, real estate agents, home healthcare providers, service techs, and parole officers are vulnerable to various dangers on the job. Isolation, unknown clients, and entering dangerous environments are a few of the risks they face.
Organizations have a moral and legal responsibility to keep those workers safe and informed. While a panic button app checks some boxes for management (convenient, cheap, and low tech), there are a number of drawbacks.
If protecting your lone workers is a top concern, it’s important to learn more about these problematic solutions.
How a Panic Button App Works
Panic button apps are installed on smartphones that are often used for lone workers. Usually, an administrator invites workers to download the app and set up an account. Depending on the app, the worker may have options to summon help by pressing the panic button. In most cases, the worker must open the app and navigate to the correct screen to get the help they need.
The Pitfalls of a Panic Button App
Multiple steps to safety
Many of the apps on the market are too complicated to be used reliably. As one reviewer wrote after trying to use a panic button app: “On iOS, this requires five separate steps to navigate to send a panic alert. Good luck even for the young and healthy, especially in a panic situation.”
The app might advertise “one click” to summon help, but it may be up to the worker to set up the shortcut on their phone. This can be challenging.
Help is on the way—perhaps
Some panic button apps allow users to add a list of contacts that will be notified when the worker presses the panic button. If five people are pinged, who is responsible for assessing the situation and making sure help is sent to the worker who needs assistance? In emergencies, minutes matter. Some panic button apps can summon police directly, which is a more practical feature. But employees must still have the presence of mind to navigate the app to get help.
Several panic button apps feature multiple messaging systems. For instance, some apps allow the person in danger to send an email asking for help. In online ratings for these apps, one reviewer reported that the emails went to junk folders.
Other apps make the user hold an onscreen button for several seconds to ask for help. This may be impossible for someone who is hurt or in danger.
Confusion during a moment of panic
Imagine how it feels when you reach for your debit card and it’s not in your wallet. Your mind starts to race, thinking back to the last time you used it. You imagine where you might have left it, if it was taken, or was dropped somewhere. Should you call the bank to cancel it, or first call the restaurant you ate yesterday? Of course, it’s unrealistic to expect a clear head during such a moment.
There are more serious scenarios during which calm thought is next to impossible: your child has gone missing, there’s a fire in your home or office, or you’ve encountered a threatening person. It’s unlikely you would calmly pull out your phone, navigate to a panic button app, and scroll to the “button” screen.
Psychologists call this the “fight or flight response.” When faced with danger, or any high-stress situation, the heart begins racing and people begin exhibiting tunnel vision, disinhibition of reflexes, and shaking among other symptoms.
Panic button apps require workers to think clearly, focus on their phone screen, unlock the phone, and complete a series of steps to call for help. Obviously, this is incredibly difficult when dealing with tunnel vision, shaking, and panic.
We think there’s a better way.
A More Effective Alternative to a Panic Button App
SafeSignal is AlertMedia’s zero-button safety solution that works in conjunction with a tether (plugged into any iOS or Android smartphone) or a timed session—empowering your people to quickly send a distress signal to the AlertMedia Monitoring Center in an emergency.
Unlike other lone worker safety apps, SafeSignal will work without requiring the user to unlock their phone. When someone pulls the SafeSignal tether or allows their timed session to expire, law enforcement is immediately dispatched to the user’s precise location.
A visible deterrent
SafeSignal provides a strong deterrent to would-be threats. It shows aggressors that someone is actively monitoring the worker, who is just one tether or headphone pull away from immediate assistance.
Local threat monitoring
SafeSignal uses real-time data from thousands of trusted sources and analysts around the globe, providing lone workers with relevant insight into potential threats impacting their area. Whether the worker is going to an unfamiliar neighborhood or an area where they normally feel safe, critical events like riots or wildfires can arise immediately and without warning. SafeSignal’s threat intelligence can alert lone workers to the fact that there is heightened danger in their area and prompt them to start a session.
An audible alarm
If a threat does arise, pulling the tether or allowing the timed session to expire will immediately sound a loud alarm, signaling to anyone in the area that law enforcement is being notified. This can scare off the attacker and help de-escalate the situation.
When the worker pulls the tether, the app immediately notifies the AlertMedia Monitoring Center. While the lone worker might not be able to dial 9-1-1—or be in a mental state to clearly and efficiently convey relevant information—the AlertMedia Monitoring Center is manned with former 9-1-1 operators prepared to advocate for the lone worker and dispatch law enforcement.
Hands-free when you need it most
Crucially, SafeSignal is completely hands-free. While other panic button solutions require the user to unlock their phone and open the app, the reality is that in many emergency situations, that’s not going to happen. Lone workers need a solution they can use to easily trigger an alarm even if they are under attack or on the run.
As one AlertMedia customer puts it, “SafeSignal allows someone in peril to replace fine motor skills with gross motor skills.”
Two Real-life Scenarios
Home health workers
In the U.S., over three million home healthcare workers show up to work every day in potentially dangerous environments. They can be injured lifting or moving patients, from slips, falls or trips, accidental injections, blood exposure, and by violence.
In one scenario, imagine a home healthcare worker is attending to an elderly female patient. The woman’s son arrives unannounced and begins to berate the worker about her care. At one point, the man walks threateningly toward the home healthcare worker.
She holds up her smartphone with the SafeSignal tether attached and tells the man to stop his harassment or she’ll call law enforcement. He backs down and the home healthcare worker quickly makes her exit. Once safely in her car, the worker reports the incident to her agency supervisor.
In another scenario, a caseworker is visiting a client when they receive a threat notification informing them that a riot has started in the neighborhood they are currently in. Since they have started a SafeSignal session, the AlertMedia Monitoring Center is aware of their location and proximity to the rioters. The worker can use this information to immediately plan an escape from the area and avoid the riot by taking an alternate route home.
By knowing there was an immediate threat a few blocks away, they were able to avoid falling victim to potential violence or becoming trapped in their client’s home waiting for the situation to calm down. After they leave the area, they can end their session knowing the Monitoring Center team was with them the entire time.
Looking Out for Workers Who Face Hazards on the Job
Your most vulnerable workers need your support. In addition to creating a lone worker policy, we recommend investing in ways to keep lone workers safe. This includes using modern technology such as SafeSignal.
Frequently Asked Questions About Panic Button Apps
Q: What kind of workers and industries would benefit most from SafeSignal?
A: Typically workers who are away from an office or work alone would benefit most from SafeSignal. Industries that would utilize SafeSignal include home healthcare, social services, maintenance or service technicians, parole and probation, and real estate and property management.
Q:What does the law say about providing panic button apps for employees?
A: Laws vary by jurisdiction, but there are laws in several states and major U.S. cities that require hotels and casinos to provide their housekeeping and maintenance staff members with safety aids. No other industries currently require employers to provide panic buttons or panic button apps for their employees. Regardless of the law, all employers have a duty of care to their employees to provide them a safe and healthy environment.
Q: What does a panic button sound like?
A: Most panic buttons will sound an audible alarm that serves as a deterrent. SafeSignal can be set up to sound an audible alarm, or to silently notify the AlertMedia monitoring center once a tether is pulled or timer expires. This versatility makes the app more usable in certain situations where discretion is preferred.
Q: Can’t I just use the built-in panic button on my iPhone?
A: Recent iOS updates offer a panic button feature, but this feature has to be enabled. Further, the user has to tap the power button 5 times to sound the alarm. Once that occurs the phone will automatically dial 911. SafeSignal streamlines this process by allowing the user to request for help without having to press a button, and doesn’t require the user (who is probably under duress) to speak with 911. The AlertMedia Monitoring Center will dispatch emergency responders to the SafeSignal user’s location immediately.
Q: How can we notify employees or others when a panic button is pushed? (or Can you trigger a notification from other devices, such as a panic button in an office?)
A: Panic buttons usually notify one person or group when pushed (usually law enforcement or a predefined friend or family member). When the SafeSignal alarm is activated, in contrast, the AlertMedia Monitoring Center will follow a customized action plan set by the company. This action plan often includes notifying company leadership or relevant stakeholders after emergency personnel have been notified.
Q: Can AlertMedia tie into a premise-based phone system or panic buttons?
A: AlertMedia’s API gives it the flexibility to integrate with many different systems.