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Hacking Health Design Challenge: Safehouse App

Submitted on Monday, October 26, 2015

hacking1Earlier this year, iSchool lecturer, Susan Elliott Sim, assembled a team of four University of Toronto students and one alumna to compete in the Hacking Health Design Challenge. The eight-week hackathon challenged participants to design and build applications to support eHealth delivery in Ontario.

Susan’s project was inspired by the Facebook group, Send Up the Count (SUTC). SUTC refers to the practice of counting off a unit of soldiers moving through a dark or dangerous place. One soldier taps another on the shoulder to pass forward the number in the group. This exercise alerts the commanding officer to a missing comrade. The Facebook group functions in a similar way, keeping track of friends and helping them through tough times.

“When I heard of it, I thought it was a great idea,” Susan says. “I also thought that they could use an app that worked on top of existing social media channels to help keep tabs on people. Currently, there are no ready mechanisms in Twitter or Facebook to whisper back ‘send up the count’ or send forward a number.”

TEAM EFFORT (pictured above are Susan Sim, Harriet South, Samantha Beekie, and Jessica Mann.)

Susan’s team helped develop her idea into the Safehouse app. Masters of Information candidates Vidhya Arulnathan (ISD) and Jessica Mann (ISD/KMIM) worked alongside undergraduate students Asiya Atcha (Interactive Digital Media) and Samantha Beekie (New Media Design/French Studies) and alumna Harriet South (MI 2014) to design, code, and test Safehouse’s front and back ends, create a supporting Web site, and conduct a social media campaign. Their areas of study and expertise demonstrate the scope of the iSchool’s programme.


Safehouse was among the 24 teams that completed the challenge by bringing a working prototype to the “hacking zone” at the eHealth 2015 conference on 3 June. A panel of judges drawn from the sponsoring companies evaluated the live demos and selected ten teams to advance to the final round, which was presented before an audience of conference attendees.

Safehouse competed against well-designed apps that addressed important frontline problems. The team is honoured to have placed within the top ten projects at Hacking Health’s flagship event, and takes pride in having achieved this result without sponsorship or being an established company.

The design challenge has ended, but Susan’s team continues to work on Safehouse. Next steps include building out the features in Safehouse, addressing technical debt, and expanding the user base.