Digital Safety: Technology to the Rescue

A range of features on your tech tools can ensure your personal safety while away from the office.

September 1, 2005

Real estate is one of those careers that comes with inherent risk to your personal safety.

You routinely spend much of your time out of the office, traveling alone, and meeting with strangers in unfamiliar places. Should you encounter a problem or an emergency situation, you may find yourself on your own. That’s why it’s crucial for you to have a safety plan in place—before you need it.

Your everyday tech tools can be one lifeline to help you stay safe on the job. Your cell phone or smartphone can summon help when needed and ensure others can find you in the event of an emergency. As a regular mobile-phone user, you already know how inconsistent coverage can be in some areas, especially for digital services. Therefore, carry an analog/digital phone and increase the odds that your call will get through in any emergency.

For REALTOR® Safety Week (Sept. 11-17), a national observation launched by the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® to reinforce the importance of personal safety on the job—and all year long—it’s important to keep these practical tips for job safety in mind:

ICE Your Phone

All cell phones feature one-button speed dialing, linked to your address book. Set one button to speed dial 911 and you’ll waste no time fumbling with the keypad when you need to make that call.

It’s also a good idea to “ICE” your cell phone. ICE stands for “In Case of Emergency,” an acronym originally promoted in Great Britain and now rapidly gaining acceptance around the globe as a designation for those people emergency responders should contact if a phone’s owner is incapacitated.

Assign one or two speed dial numbers to ICE, followed by the name of the person or place you want contacted, such as ICE Home or ICE Work, or the preferred order of contacts, such as ICE 1, ICE 2, etc.

For several years, wireless providers, as mandated by the Federal Communications Commission, have been working on an E911 system for mobile phones. Like its landline counterpart, the system will allow call centers to pinpoint the location a cell phone was used to place emergency calls and quickly dispatch responders to that location. Although the capability to broadcast that information is already built into many new phones, not all call centers are equipped for this service yet. Check with local police, fire, or ambulance services for information on local availability.

GPS to the Rescue

If cellular E911 services are not yet available in your area, GPS services for the cell phone or certain smartphones can provide the same location information. Nextel has taken a lead here with its MapQuest Find Me service. Available for as little as $5.99 as an add-on service for GPS-enabled Nextel phones, the system can be set to track your location periodically as you travel about or to announce your precise location to others via text message with a push of a button.

Subscribers to Nextel’s Total Connect plan who use certain Motorola iDEN cell phones also can subscribe to the free AccuTracking cell phone tracking system online. Originally developed as a solution for business managers to monitor the travel of their fleet, the system also can be used to monitor your travel or to broadcast your location. Once your location is transmitted, those trying to locate you can log on to the AccuTracking Web site and find out where you are.

For those who’d feel more secure carrying a second cell phone, specifically for emergency situations, there’s the SafeGuardian OneTouch GPS Mobile Safety Phone. This safety system combines GPS tracking/location with instant access to a call center staffed with live virtual assistants who monitor incoming calls and can initiate appropriate responses.

Designed for ease of use in an emergency situation, you simply press a button on this hands-free analog speaker phone to connect to the company’s call center. Attached to the call is GPS information detailing your location. The phone itself features a built-in 95-decibel alarm, which makes the level of sound of an electric drill, you can activate to draw attention or deter threats. Pricing, which includes the phone, starts at $29.99 per month for a three-year contract.

If you’re especially concerned about access to emergency assistance while driving, next time you’re in the market for a new car, you might want to concentrate on those models that offer the OnStar safety and security system as an option. Permanently installed in the car, this hands-free wireless package offers a range of services—including 24-hour access to trained advisers, direct connection to emergency assistance, and a hands-free calling feature—based on location.

With its basic Safe & Sound plan, at a cost of $16.95 per month or $199 per year, the OnStar service will dispatch emergency personnel to your location if you are ever incapacitated, request help, or your air bags deploy, and can remotely flash the car horn and lights to attract attention. The package also includes stolen-vehicle tracking, remote repair diagnostics, and remote unlocking of the car doors when you accidentally lock the keys inside.

Personal Security Solutions

In addition to the range of wireless safety services, there are a number of relatively inexpensive electronic gadgets you can carry to protect yourself and deter predators when out of your car, meeting new clients, or touring property. Several Web-based retailers specialize in personal safety and security devices, including Safety and Security Center, Safety Gear HQ, DefenseXpress, and Security Planet.

As a simple, non-violent deterrent, there’s a variety of compact alarm systems that can be attached to your key chain or carried in a pocket or purse. To activate the $8 PAL-1 130db Personal Alarm from Safety Gear HQ, you simply pull a strap pin and the alarm sounds a 130-decibel siren, which is equivalent to a jackhammer or power drill. With the company’s HP-388 keychain alarm, a push of a button activates a 120-decibel whistle, which is equivalent to an ambulance siren.

In some areas, intruders can pose a real concern when you’re visiting or showing a vacant house. Several portable alarm products can be quickly installed and activated as a temporary alarm system while on site, then easily removed as you leave.

For $10, The First Alert alarm system includes four mini-alarms that easily attach to doors or windows. You can set the alarm if you’re viewing a vacant property on your own so that a siren sounds when the door or a window is opened. You also can set it to chime mode, say, during open houses, to alert you when someone enters the home. The $12.95 Door Guard Alarm from Guard Dog also can be hung around the doorknob of any door and a siren goes off when someone touches the doorknob. You can activate the alarm before and after an open house but deactivate it during the open house.

Not all the threats to your safety are posed by humans. If you’re concerned about encountering aggressive dogs while you’re out and about and don’t want to carry pepper spray, DefenseXpress’ Dog Chaser ($19) emits uncomfortable high-frequency sound that only dogs can hear.

As all these products and services demonstrate, there’s no shortage of affordable solutions to give you greater peace of mind in the field.

Tech-Powered Tips for Personal Safety

  • Know where you’re going. Before you leave for any destination, make sure you use a mapping software on your computer like Microsoft Streets & Trips to get point-to-point directions. Or GPS-based navigation systems offered by Garmin International and Magellan that install in your car also provide turn-by-turn directions and ensure you won’t get lost in unfamiliar neighborhoods.
  • Keep your phone on and with you. Your cell phone won’t do any good if it’s left behind and unavailable in an emergency situation.
  • Share your location. Whether meeting with clients or touring a vacant property, use your cell phone to let someone at the office know where you are, who you’re with, and how long you expect to be. If you’ve got a GPS-powered phone, transmit your location on arrival.
  • Set a call schedule and code. Pre-arrange the intervals at which you should be contacted when meeting with clients or at a home or property. Set up a coded message or sentence with the caller to indicate when things are going well, if you feel threatened, or need help.
  • Trust your instincts. If you’re concerned about the risks in certain neighborhoods or at certain times, don’t be embarrassed to carry a personal alarm or to install temporary security alarms on doors or windows.
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