Coloradans Develop App to Help Keep People Safe During School Shootings

Courtesy of Akshay Pradhan
Colorado has an unfortunate reputation for its historically high number of school shootings. Until there's a deeper policy fix, the problem may continue. But Akshay Pradhan isn't willing to wait for politicians to act.

"We just got frustrated and saddened by the numerous deaths surrounding school shootings," says Pradhan, a tax attorney who lives in Littleton. "This also arose from the fact that while a shooting is going on, the only thing you go off of is the sound of a gun."

Pradhan and his friend and business partner Sid Bhat developed Brella, an app that allows users to add and view information about a shooter's location. When a shooting is happening, a user can instantly notify other users about what's happening. First responders can also use the app to locate a shooter.

"In a time like that, you're very stressed out and the brain just can't focus and be calm. We made it very easy, so that all you do is open the app, hold your finger down on the first page of the app for three seconds and identify what's going on," says Pradhan. Users can also send messages to authorities, notify 911 operators, and pass along pictures that might help law enforcement during a crisis.

The idea for the app came from Pradhan, who was struck by the number of innocent lives lost during shootings. "We did not know what was happening inside the schools. Furthermore, our kids were terrified that they would be sitting ducks," Pradhan says. The app name is a reference to an umbrella, which protects people much like the app protects users, albeit from a dangerous situation.

Bhat, a Highlands Ranch software development supervisor for the Colorado Judicial Department by day, built the app himself. Pradhan and Bhat spent about $2,000 to develop the app, mostly on state filing costs and other costs associated with website maintenance, web security and marketing.

The two released the app earlier this summer and are working on expanding the number of users. As of now, only a few dozen individuals have downloaded the app. Pradhan and Bhat would like to eventually expand their app across the country, and are aiming to have at least 500 users by the end of the year. If they reach that goal, they'll start advertising the app on TV and hope that universities will integrate Brella into software that administrators might already use to notify professors and students about potentially violent situations.

And while they're searching for funding to grow the app, the two are working on the project using their own money.

"It's a completely nonprofit app. There's no desire to make money. And we wouldn't want to. Typically how these apps make money is through advertising, and we definitely don't want a pop-up," says Pradhan, explaining that a pop-up could impede functionality.

Other apps that focus on helping people report emergencies already exist. Share911, for example, helps people at a business notify 911 immediately if someone threatening enters a workspace. But that app requires users to create a username and a profile and only works for employees of a company. Brella, on the other hand, is accessible to anyone at any time and allows users to locate a shooter themselves.

But that doesn't mean it will be easy for people to play a prank on law enforcement or call in a fake shooting, Pradhan says. He compares it to the navigation app Waze, which only reports information if multiple people send tips in. "The more people that report, the more authentic it becomes," Pradhan says.

Denver Public Schools is working to train its security staff to be ready come the worst. The district held a mock school shooting scenario on July 30, building off a similar training from last year. During the scenario, officers from the district's Department of Safety practiced clearing an elementary school and reuniting children with their parents at a nearby high school.

In May, the Denver Post published an article showing that metro Denver has by far the most school shootings of any major metropolitan area in the country. That same month, one student was killed and eight were injured during a shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.