When Sandra Hassan created the I Am Alive app, her intention was mostly dark humor. A 26-year-old graduate student in Paris, Hassan had gotten sick of worrying about family and friends whenever she heard news of a suicide bombing in her hometown of Beirut. A detonation on January 21, in the same neighborhood where a car bomb had exploded just three weeks earlier, spurred her to action. In what she describes as an “expression of discontent,” Hassan developed an app that allows users, with one touch, to tweet a reassuring message to their followers: “I am still alive! #Lebanon #LatestBombing.”
The app quickly caught on: within a month, it was downloaded more than 5,000 times. In addition to cultural commentary, it has provided a much-needed service to people who live in areas targeted by terrorists—and to those who care about them. The moments following a suicide bombing are, after all, among the worst times to make a phone call. Networks jam. Getting sent to voice mail induces dread. “It’s the same cycle each time,” Hassan says. “You have to rush to your phone or Facebook or Twitter to try to make sure that everyone you know is okay. It’s a horrible feeling.” On the ground, the trilling of victims’ phones becomes an eerie score to the aftermath.
Hassan now offers hashtags for other countries and allows users to post their statuses to Facebook. She also realized that the app might help in all kinds of crises. To that end, she is working with the nonprofit L’Observatoire International des Crises (International Crisis Watch) to develop a version for use in situations from natural disasters to mass-transit accidents.*
In the meantime, Hassan says she’s gotten e-mails from many people who are using the app “in much more peaceful ways.” Members of one jet-setting family told her that they use it to let one another know when their planes have safely touched the ground.