Never Walk Alone at Night Again with Friend Walk

We’ve all been there. Maybe a meeting went longer than expected, you ended up on the closing shift at work, or you decided to take a class that goes late into the evening. Whatever the case, you were stuck facing the fact that you will be walking through the dark alone. Sometimes, the walk is short enough or there are enough lights on the way that there is no fear in the setting. This, unfortunately, is not always the case, and for good reason. It truly is often not safe to walk alone, especially at night.

Over the years, people have introduced me to the many strategies they use to ensure their safety while walking in the dark. Some people will talk on their phone to dissuade anyone from approaching, whether or not they actually have a call going. For less nerve-inducing situations, a simple text before starting the walk and after arriving at their destination works to assure that all is well. Recently, I was introduced to another strategy: the Friend Walk.

The concept is very straightforward. Download an app that contains the program Friend Walk, and when you’re facing a walk that makes you feel uncomfortable, you can use it to send a request to someone trustworthy in your contacts. Then, they must actively accept the request, you set a destination, and you can start walking. Your contact will be directed to a map that has your up-to-date location, and can watch to ensure that you do not deviate from your intended goal. When you reach your destination or you cancel the Friend Walk, your contact is automatically informed.

As a test, I tried out Friend Walk through the app Safe Cats, an app available for free in both the Apple App Store and in the Android Market. It was developed for students at Montana State University, but can be used by anyone (that’s where the name comes from. The mascot for MSU is a bobcat, and the logo is used for the app).

During my simple trial runs where I walked around the block, it did its job well. Safe Cats is an easy app to navigate, with a very obvious layout and clear explanations when an option is chosen. The only trouble I had was when I locked my phone while being the walker or navigated away from the page while being the observer. The location of the walker stopped being recorded at that point. My conclusion from this is that it’s important to hold up your end of the Friend Walk. If you agreed to be the observer, make sure you do your job and stay focused on making sure your friend makes it to their destination. If you are the walker and feel unsafe enough that you need to use Friend Walk, it’s probably best to have your phone out and ready to call for an emergency, just in case.

Safe Cats has quite a few other resources available beyond Friend Walk, but most are only helpful for MSU students. There are other apps that offer Friend Walk, I know, but I personally find this service being offered by a university to be a step in the right direction. Perhaps the University of Utah will follow this lead, and add Friend Walk to the already present SafeUT app. It’s time for the tragedies that have plagued the University of Utah campus in recent years to stop, and it’s my hope that programs like Friend Walk will help be part of the solution. Stay safe, everyone.


Images: Cover, 1, 2, 3