British Columbia

Women in northwestern B.C. at risk of violence can use app to try to stay safe

Aware360 can be downloaded to smart phones and is connected 24/7 to call centre staff who can check in on users to make sure they are OK and notify RCMP if they are not.

Aware360 is connected 24/7 to call centre staff who can contact RCMP if need be

Aware 360 is free to download and is connected to call centre staff 24/7 who can check in on users to make sure they are OK and send help if need be. (Shutterstock / Zivica Kerkez)

Women living in communities along the infamous Highway of Tears who are afraid for their safety can now carry some peace of mind in their purses.

Roxanne Quock, a missing and murdered indigenous female support worker at the Dze L K'ant Friendship Centre Society in Smithers, B.C., wants women in the area to know they can download an app, Aware360, to keep tabs on their whereabouts and send help if needed.

"Women have fear. We have fear when we leave. We have fear when we go out. Even after the inquiry, even after all of these recommendations and calls to action, our women are still going missing, so people live in that constant fear," said Quock, referring to the final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.

Quock learned about the app when it was shown to her by an employee of the Gitsxan Development Corporation (GDC) who was showing it to colleagues at the Friendship Centre.

Aware 360 can be downloaded to any smart phone and is connected to BC SafetyLink, a professional response call centre owned and operated by the GDC.

With the mobile app Aware 360, people are able to check in and out to indicate they are safe and summon help if they are not. (CBC)

The app can be programmed to request a check-in by text or phone call from call centre staff after two hours or as frequently as once every 10 minutes.

Call centre staff have emergency contact users on-hand that are provided when a person sets up the app. Quock said staff will notify those contacts if a user does not check in at the pre-arranged time.

An emergency signal can also be sent to request an immediate response from RCMP if a user is in trouble. Officers can use the GPS location in the woman's phone to find her.

A cross outside Smithers, B.C., marks the spot where the body of Jessica Patrick, 18, was found after she was last seen leaving a motel along the Highway of Tears. (Daniel Mesec)

Quock said the app will be handy for the many women in the area who depend on hitchhiking to get around.

"The reality is that with or without safety, with or without knowledge of violence, people are going to hitchhike," said Quock. 

"A lot of times people live in poverty on this highway and, so, owning a vehicle and having that luxury is not always available to most, and people still need to see the doctor, still need to see the dentist, need to see counsellors and sometimes groceries are even cheaper, so hitchhiking is your way," she added.

The app, originally created for companies to keep tabs on employees working in remote locations, is free to download and is part of the Safer Communities Initiative, which offers technological innovation to help vulnerable populations.

With files from Daybreak North

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