One in four college students in the U.S. are taken to the emergency room every year, which is roughly 4.5 million students. Umergency is a safety emergency app for students to notify and update their loved ones about any situation they may be in.
Gail Schenbaum, co-founder and CEO of Umergency and “mom-preneur,” launched the app nationally in August 2018.
“Even if their roommate goes to the ER, they feel they like they could be invincible,” Schenbaum said. “Yet with all the scary stuff going on on campus, we’re having more and more students sign up.”
Schenbaum is unsure as to whether or not parents are telling their children to download the app or if the students are taking their own initiative to do so, but they currently have 65,000-70,000 users.
Schenbaum felt the need to start an emergency services app for college students after her daughter had an accident her freshman year that resulted in her being taken to the ER.
“It was horrifying to get that call in the middle of the night,” Schenbaum said. “I didn’t know where she was being taken. I didn’t have any of the emergency, health or safety contacts at all.”
The only reason the medical center called Schenbaum long after her daughter’s accident was because her daughter was older than 18, and the medical professionals treating her daughter didn’t have to talk to Schenbaum until her daughter told them to.
Schenbaum and her husband were calling numerous hospitals to find where their daughter was admitted. By that point, the medical professionals had given her daughter morphine and were processing her for medical surgery after her hand was caught in a door and her thumb came off.
Schenbaum was grateful that her daughter’s thumb was reattached and she had regained full function of her hand. Because of that, Schenbaum couldn’t help but feel helpless and didn’t want other college students or their families to go through what they went through.
Schenbaum and her team conducted research to see whether or not students and their parents would want an emergency, safety and health app, interviewing over 200 parents and students.
“We wanted to have a really good base from students all across the country,” Schenbaum said. “We wanted to make sure it wasn’t based on if you lived 3,000 miles from your home. You could live 45 minutes away from your home and still need this.”
They learned that almost no one had any emergency health or safety resources on their phones.
“Almost all of the parents didn’t realize that they needed permission in order to speak to medical personnel,” Schenbaum said.
The app contains campus-based contacts, local emergency resources, digital medical consent forms, an urgent alert beacon with GPS location, an insurance card upload with mobile access and securely linked accounts to share vital data.
“Everything you need [and] nothing you don’t,” according to Umergency’s website.
Because students usually carry their phones with them, Umergency’s app format frees students from having to lug around insurance cards in purses or wallets.
“Every parent with a child in college needs this app,” wrote Elize Z., a reviewer published on the Umergency home page.
Umergency has over 1,200 colleges and universities in the database. All users have to do is sign up for their colleges in the app and it will pre-populate emergency health and safety information for the specific school.
“We’ve done all of the work for you,” Schenbaum said. “All you have to do is fill in your emergency contacts. You get to choose who you want to have this information.”
Umergency is currently in the process of trying to streamline the onboarding to make the app even simpler. Because of privacy, the app is not notified when it is in use. For example, when you are pressing the urgent alert button, information is sent to your personal contacts rather than those working at Umergency.
Although the app is completely free for students, parents pay $9.99 per year or $19.99 for four years.
An urgent alert button, requested by students, allows students who feel unsafe in any way, to enable push notifications that will say the users need help and send help to their locations. If the situation changes, the users can click a button that reads, “I’m safe” sending it to their contacts.
“It’s a scarier world,” Schenbaum said. “People just want to feel safe in their environment. That’s why [Umergency] was created. It came from a personal experience, and [we] didn’t want people to feel as helpless as we did. It’s very easy to feel safe and prepared.”
Schenbaum originally produced television for the past 10 years. She switched to emergency technology services after she escorted her two teenage girls to three funerals of friends who died within two years from car crashes.
Because of those incidents, the community asked Schenbaum to make a film about car crashes. Instead she asked students to make a non-profit video program known as “In One Instant,” which is now shown in 2,100 high schools.
Because of the success of “In One Instant” Schenbaum said she got more interested in the safety world.
“You’d think nothing is ever going to happen to you, but if and when it does, it’s so much better to have a tool that will help you move through [situations] quickly,” Schenbaum said. “You’d be doing your parents and your family a favor. It’s really the gift of safety.”
Umergency also contains the three national hotlines most used by college students in every app: National Sexual Assault Hotline, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Poison Control.