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4:30 am
Sun February 2, 2014

Beirut Bombing Spawns An App To Tell Loved Ones 'I Am Alive'

Originally published on Mon February 3, 2014 8:33 am

"I am alive."

Those words can mean a lot when you are a resident of Lebanon, where bombings are a frequent reality. So Sandra Hassan, a Lebanese-born graduate student studying public health in Paris, developed an app that lets users get the message out quickly. With one click, they can instantly tweet the message: "I am still alive! #Lebanon #LatestBombing."

She got the idea in a flash of dark humor, after hearing about a car bomb that went off in a suburb of Beirut, as she explains to NPR's Rachel Martin in an interview.

"It was maybe a little bit frustrating that, we in Lebanon at least, that we're living in a situation that makes such an application necessary or useful," Hassan says. "My way to express that frustration was to publish this app ... kind of as a statement against what was happening, a statement of discontent if you will."

Lebanon was hit by several bombs in January, and Hassan says it was stressful trying to get in touch with her loved ones, family and friends back home. She points out the mobile phone networks get a lot of traffic, so she thought using the Internet might be a better way of reaching out.

The current version only connects to Twitter, but Hassan plans further updates so that it works with Facebook, or so that it could work like an instant messaging app, independent of social media. The basic idea is still that with one click, you can send a message to people who want to make sure you're okay.

She was surprised the app got so much attention.

"But I am hopeful that this application can actually help people, not only in conflict zones, but also be used in times of crisis as a result of natural disasters," Hassan says. "I've been getting a lot of requests by people who have seen the application, to make it more international, to remove the #Lebanon and to make it usable by people all over the world."

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Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

I am alive. Those words can mean a lot when you live in Lebanon, where bombings are a frequent reality. So, a Lebanese-born graduate student, Sandra Hassan, has developed an app that lets users get the message out quickly. Just by clicking once, they can instantly tweet the message: I am still alive! #Lebanon #LatestBombing, and it will appear in their Twitter feed. Several tweets from the app were posted yesterday after a bombing in Beirut. Sandra Hassan says she developed and published the app as kind of a joke, a sort of dark humor. I reached her via Skype in Paris and I asked her when it changed into something more sincere and sober.

SANDRA HASSAN: The idea behind the app was something that I had been thinking about for a while. But when I heard the news about the last explosion that happened in Lebanon, I was very frustrated. And my way to express that frustration was to publish this app in the version that it's in now, especially with the predefined hashtags as kind of a statement against what was happening, a statement of discontent, if you will.

MARTIN: I assume that it was your own experience of living through bombings in Beirut that inspired this app?

HASSAN: Well, yeah, especially the month of January we had more than one bombing. And it's quite stressful trying to get in touch with your loved ones, your family and friends to see if they're all right, especially being in Paris right now and not being back home. And usually there's a lot of traffic on the mobile phone networks, so calls can't get through either. So, I thought that using the Internet might be a better way to get in touch.

MARTIN: So, can you explain how it works? And this is only for people who are on Twitter, right, and whose friends and families are also on Twitter.

HASSAN: The version online right now only connects to Twitter but there are updates that will use other social media or even be independent of social media that I'll publish soon. And the idea is that you can open the app and immediately with just one click, you can have a preconfigured message sent out to your timeline to reassure people who want to make sure you're OK.

MARTIN: So, sounds like you're getting good response to the app. This is something that is surprising you?

HASSAN: Initially, it was quite surprising to see all of the attention that was directed towards the application. And it's maybe a little bit frustrating that we, in Lebanon at least, we are living in a situation that makes such an application necessary or useful. But I am hopeful that this application can actually help people not only in conflict zones but it can also be used in times of crisis as a result of natural disasters. And I've been getting a lot of requests from people who have seen the application to make it more international, to remove the hashtag Lebanon and make it useable by people from all over the world.

MARTIN: Sandra Hassan. She joined us via Skype from Paris, where she's a graduate student. She has developed an app allowing people to tweet out the message: I am alive. Thanks so much for talking with us, Sandra.

HASSAN: Thank you very much for having me, again.

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MARTIN: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.