Shelter provides SOS devices

GPS technology is ensuring police can find domestic violence victims wherever they are with the push of an SOS button.

GPS technology is ensuring police can find domestic violence victims wherever they are with the push of an SOS button.

In 2010, Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter started a three-year pilot program to provide women with a tracking device that can pinpoint where they are by satellite.

Ian Wheeliker, executive director for Central Alberta Women’s Emergency Shelter, said previously the shelter provided women with cellphones that could only triangulate a location through cell towers to within 300 metres of the phone, so a search was still required.

“It’s definitely an advancement and the women who do carry it feel that it is of benefit. The women who have pushed the SOS have gotten a very quick police response,” said Wheeliker on Monday.

“To date, we’re pleased with how the device has enhanced women’s safety. Their GPS co-ordinates can be matched instantly with a Google Map and their street address will come up.”

The device, which looks like a small cellphone, costs only $10 more a month compared to the $30 monthly cellphone program that was available, he said.

Satellite tracking works well in Red Deer because there’s not a lot of GPS drift from tall buildings that can throw off the location by about two blocks.

“Satellite needs a straight line to the device. Every time it goes through a building, it bends.”

Wheeliker said so far there haven’t been any serious emergency situations.

The devices have been activated less than five times, including once when a woman in her vehicle was sure she was being followed by her partner. Police met up with her on Hwy 2.

The man was already gone but police were there within 10 minutes. Another woman contacted police when she thought someone was poking around in her back alley.

The shelter has nine tracking devices for women using the shelter, or working with police or domestic violence court.

“It also works as a cellphone. When she pushes the button, she is connected with Northern 911, an emergency dispatch centre in northern Ontario.

“They can put her right through and talk to the local RCMP. If they don’t get a code word from her, they send police, fire and ambulance to her location.”

Wheeliker said the devices are just one part of comprehensive safety plans set up for women.

A $27,000 grant over three years from the Alberta Victims of Crime Fund funded the project, which runs until July. The shelter will apply in April for more funding to continue the program.

The women’s shelter in Calgary has been testing the devices and will start using them in the spring.