A Ryerson professor hopes to revolutionize safety on campus by combining geography with technology.

Geography professor Eric Vaz and two employees from Ryerson’s Laboratory for Geocomputation have developed a crime hot-spot web application called RUSafe. The site allows users to select a type of security incident, like assault or voyeurism, and see on a map where it has occurred on campus.

“It’s the power of knowledge,” Vaz says. “If students become more aware, and can better protect themselves, we are bound to see a decrease in the number of security incidents (on campus).”

A screenshot of the RUSafe online application, showing where assaults occur on campus.

A screenshot of the RUSafe online application, visualizing where assaults have occured on campus. (Courtesy RUSafe)

The application also shows users the frequency of security incidents which are ranked as high, moderate, low and very low. The information displayed on the application is taken from Integrated Risk Management’s (IRM) security incident reports.

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This is only the first stage of the RUSafe application.

Vaz says his next goal is to develop RUSafe so Ryerson security can plot incidents into the application’s map as they respond to them in real-time.  Doing this could help keep the Ryerson community safer, he adds.

The RUSafe team plans to apply for a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) Insight Grant. With the funds from the grant, the team hopes to advance the application for Ryerson security’s use.

Victoria Sytsma, a criminology professor at the University of Toronto, says studies show policing security hot spots reduce crime. In order to combat hot spot areas, security and administration must determine outside factors that make an area a hub for crime, she says, such as a nearby bar that may lend to intoxication-based violence.

“Campus security … would need to know, for example, more incident-based information on the assaults which are taking place in high-assault areas to alleviate risk factors,” Sytsma says.

Combining the knowledge of where hot spots are located with the risk factors that may be associated with the areas can help alleviate criminal activity, she adds.

Last year, The Ryersonian found that most security incidents on campus continue to occur around Gould and Victoria Streets and Jorgenson Hall. 

Sytsma adds that real-time updates would “only be useful to security staff and administration if coupled with incident-based information and a willingness to tackle risk factors.”

But creating a map with real-time updates isn’t all the RUSafe developers have in mind.

The team also hopes to incorporate tracking capabilities into the application, which would be able to tell users the probability of a security incident occurring based on their location on campus and the time of day.

When analyzing the IRM report information to create the current RUSafe application, researcher Calvin Derose noticed that certain incidents are most likely to occur during specific times of the day.  For example, most voyeurism incidents occur between 1 p.m. and 5 p.m.

While Ryerson security could not comment on the RUSafe application, Tanya Poppleton, manager of security and emergency services at Ryerson, says that IRM is in the process of creating of their own “mapping tool” that will “offer users a well-informed sense of personal safety risks.”


Jessica is the former managing editor for online at The Ryersonian, and a former editorial intern at The Globe and Mail. She is interested in digital media, marketing, health and the environment. She graduated from Ryerson University with a bachelor of journalism in 2015.