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After Israeli Kidnappings, New App Aims to Prevent More Teen Killings

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Eli Beer and Ambucycle
Eli Beer and Ambucycle in Israel on June 30, 2014. Photographer: Moshe Assulin via Bloomberg

As Israeli soldiers searched for three abducted teenagers last month, a free smartphone app developed by a Jerusalem tech company was released to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

United Hatzalah, a volunteer rescue service, commissioned NowForce, an Israeli software maker founded in 2008, to create the SOS app. It's available for free to anyone living in or visiting the country.

NowForce was in the top 100 iPhone apps in Israel and top 200 on Android there for most of last week, according to research firm App Annie. The data show that the app, which offers extra features to emergency-response professionals, got a boost yesterday when the bodies of the three teens were discovered in the West Bank — making international headlines as Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu blamed Hamas, which has neither claimed nor denied involvement. More than 60,000 people have downloaded the SOS app since it went live last month, according to United Hatzalah.

The SOS version of the app developed by NowForce allows anyone in trouble to request help with the swipe of a finger. Once a user opens the app and activates a distress call, NowForce automatically dispatches a notification to the Hatzalah rescue service and to police containing the phone's location. The SOS function continuously updates emergency responders with the device's location using a similar GPS technology that Hatzalah medics rely on.

One of the three youths abducted while hitchhiking home on June 12 managed to make an emergency call to a police switchboard and whispered, "I'm being kidnapped." After listening to the call several times, police dismissed it as one of hundreds of crank calls they claim to receive every day. Pranks through the SOS app are less likely because users must register with their real names and mobile phone numbers before being able to download, United Hatzalah President Eli Beer said.

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