By combining the power of a community and technology, emergencies can be better managed, and crime can be beaten. This was the key message conveyed when Buzzer app won the Health category at the recent the 2022 MTN Business App of the Year Awards, showing how technology and developers can affect real change.
The brainchild of Keri Cross of Hout Bay, Buzzer was created as a result of seeing the spiralling crime rates, from burglaries to armed house invasions in the Hout Bay area. With crime levels escalating so much, not even the Hout Bay neighbourhood watch or WhatsApp Groups were making a difference and Cross chose to do something about it.
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Cross began to take active steps against the level of crime in Hout Bay which has made this area one of the worst in the country, by launching a starting a non-profit organisation called Community Crime Prevention (CCP), after which Buzzer was brought to life.
“The year the app was developed, there were 90 violent home invasions (house robberies). Muggings made streets unsafe, and in my suburb of Penzance alone there were 25 various incidents. By initially concentrating just on Penzance, the use of the app was able to reduce this statistic to zero and kept it this way for more than three years,” says Cross.
“Crime prevention is about layered activities. You make your house safe, then your street, then your neighbourhood, then your suburb and then the town. Seeing what we had done in Penzance got people from other suburbs asking for help. It seemed that everything was a mess. There were Facebook and WhatsApp groups, but communication wasn’t working, and when people shouted for help, they weren’t getting it. The trouble is that these apps aren’t built for community safety”.
After deliberation, determination to make a change and getting technical help from Jessica Boomstrater, an IT systems engineer, Buzzer was launched. The app, with 20 000 members, has changed Hout Bay and is now spreading its influence across the country.
The difference between Buzzer and other apps designed to assist with medical, crime and other emergencies is that most others rely on calls to authorities – many of whom are overstretched and fail to respond. When a panic button is pushed on a phone, Buzzer alerts all Buzzer members within 250 metres of the alarm, and they respond. Help is on hand within seconds as Buzzer-registered locals and security companies respond.
Cross says that Buzzer has saved many lives, quoting an example of a child whose mother found him floating face-down in the swimming pool.
“In medical emergency mode, activating Buzzer saw a doctor living a few houses away responding. When he called on Buzzer for some specific medication, another person living less than 250 metres away responded. The little boy has fully recovered from his ordeal”.
The other benefit of this crime and emergency app has been a greater sense of community.
“People have come together, strangers have become friends, and security has increased. And, because many community members were involved in helping us to develop the app, it meets their needs and is simple to operate,” says Cross, who also reports that some private security companies are now offering the app to their members.
“Over its 11 years, the MTN Business App of the Year Awards has attracted entries from thousands of innovative people who have used their skills to benefit millions of others. Like Buzzer, many have small beginnings but go on to solve problems that can impact the wellness, lifestyles and security of people across South Africa and beyond our borders.
“At MTN, we are proud to be part of this process of uniting people and giving them the tools required to help themselves,” says Kholofelo Magagane, head of marketing at MTN Business.