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Article posted: 2/9/2013 8:00 AM

Arlington Hts. man has app for fighting off attacker

By Eric Peterson

Peter Cahill of Arlington Heights wants to fight attackers with the same relentlessness the criminals themselves exhibit.

He believes he's hit upon the way to do so -- not one by one but by the millions.

The former investment banker has developed a smartphone application that a crime victim can use to alert police, even as the attack is occurring.

The victimization of some of his own family members was a large part of his inspiration. But when his niece was approached by a stranger who offered her a ride last March in Barrington, he decided not to wait any longer.

"I remember saying, this has got to get out on the market -- now," Cahill said.

He is the founder and CEO of Chicago-based Clandestine Development LLC, which created the LifeLine Response smartphone app.

Though on the market for only nine weeks, it has already made its way onto 30 college campuses and into the hands of 30 to 40 celebrities whose publicists stay in touch with the latest developments in personal security.

In just the past several weeks, the app has received unsolicited endorsements from the police chief at Angelo State University in Texas and Jonna Williams, the childhood victim of a 1994 abduction and assault in Waterloo, Iowa.

The original age group for LifeLine Response was to be college-age and up, but last year's incident with his niece and Williams' endorsement made Cahill rethink it.

He has offered to provide the app free for a year to students in Barrington Unit District 220 and in Waterloo-area schools -- the equivalent of a $500,000 donation, he said.

While the smartphone app is probably not for very young students, it's certainly something teens can properly use, Cahill said.

The app is used in two different ways, but both result in a professionally trained call center getting an alert and precise personal and GPS location data -- with which they can contact the appropriate 911 dispatch service.

The first way to activate the alert is in "touch" mode. A person feeling threatened keeps his or her thumb pressed to the phone -- if they let go for 20 seconds, the alert begins.

The second way is to set the alert to go off if a specific task -- like going for a jog -- isn't completed and a deactivation code punched in within a set amount of time.

The phone will make a loud noise and issue an automated statement that police have been dispatched. The noise itself was engineered to be something both offenders and passers-by won't be desensitized to, as so many have become to car or fire alarms.

With the app giving the precise location of the phone at the time of the attack and even if it's still with the victim, it provides police with probable cause to enter what might otherwise be private property.

"We've created forensic evidence for the police," Cahill said.

The current nationwide call center is based in Chicago has a staff of 75 dispatchers, which Cahill calls "overkill" -- designed to be more than adequate for the first 3.5 million users of the app. As use grows, so will the staff, he said.

Call center employees -- while not 911 dispatchers themselves -- are trained to give the dispatchers all the information they need.

Cahill doesn't consider himself creative. All he did, he said, is pull together the age-old concept of a "dummy switch" with today's cellphone technology and the 911 database.

Such a device could have existed 15 years ago, he said.

Still, in just the two months LifeLine Response has been around, it has already saved the lives of three women, Cahill said.

"One happened to be a police officer who chose to have her hand on the app rather than her gun," Cahill said.

He has asked to more fully explain the app and his offer to the District 220 school board on Feb. 19. The school board is mulling the offer, unsure about a public entity promoting a private company.

Superintendent Tom Leonard has said he'd be more comfortable after first issuing a request for similar proposals from the community.

Cahill said he's happy to wait until they're comfortable because he believes there's nothing remotely like his app that could be put up as competition.

The one-year free offer to District 220 would be followed by a still discounted rate of $9 per year.

The regular cost of the app will be $22 per year.

Cahill said people of every gender, race and financial background are equally vulnerable to being attacked and he doesn't want the app to be unaffordable to any.

"We're not here to counsel people after an attack, we want to prevent them from happening," Cahill said.

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