Buzzer rings in new era of safety

Reuben Maarman and Keri Cross at Watchcon’s control room.
Reuben Maarman and Keri Cross at Watchcon’s control room.

The murder of Ukrainian hiker Ivan Ivanon at East Fort, Chapman’s Peak Drive, in Hout Bay on Saturday 27 July shook the world. Many sighed in relief when the first suspect in the case was apprehended later that same day, but few knew that it was an app that had lead to the quick arrest.

Keri Cross, director of community crime prevention (CCP) Hout Bay, says a report came through to the Buzzer Community Safety app shortly after the robbery. It read that three men were seen running down Chapman’s Peak Drive.

Cross explains: “Our operations manager JJ De Villiers, tech manager Jarryd Shotlz and CCP volunteer Bradley Brown responded to the incident and coordinated the arrest of the first suspect and handed him over to the police.”

Launched at the beginning of this year, Buzzer was created for Hout Bay in cooperation with CCP and Watchcon.

The free app, available from Google Paly Stor or App Store, geolocates the exact point at where an incident has been reported.

“It works very well, especially in the informal settlement Imizamo Yethu where usually there aren’t actual addresses listed.”

The app’s inception is rooted in a partnership between Cross and Jessica Boonstra which began three and a half years ago.

Cross had just founded Hout Bay CCP. By setting up a closed-camera network and an effective communication “triangle” between the reporter (residents), the responders (residents or professionals) and the monitor (coordinator), CCP was making huge strides in reducing crime in the area.

Boonstra had recently moved to Hout Bay from the Netherlands. With a background in engineering and online tech, she was curious about how crime response and communication worked here. She learnt about Cross and the great work CCP was doing and wanted to meet her. Together they undertook to improve communication further.

“None of the existing security apps or systems allowed for communities to work with professionals to share and resolve incidents,” says Boonstra.

The duo organised a workshop with representatives from Hout Bay communities to brainstorm ideas. The result was a blueprint for what would later become Buzzer.

“We wanted to make it as simple, low threshold and affordable as a neighbourhood WhatsApp group; only smarter, faster and better structured,” she says.

An Israeli company with experience in security-tech built the technology.

The app’s home screen has an SOS button and a report button. When you press a button, a signal is sent to other Buzzer users in your direct vicinity (and to the local control room, if connected). Users can choose to “opt in to help”. They then become visible on the map and can join in on the chat for that particular incident.

Boonstra says they have started talking to other areas who are considering implementing Buzzer through a controlled roll-out.

For it to be activated in a new area, the following is needed: the GPS coordinates of the area (‘geofence’); a local control room/armed response company equipped with the required monitoring software; a local community superuser/admin (much like a WhatsApp manager/ moderator).

The monthly fee for the licenses of the monitoring and superuser software is less than R1 per user per month.

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