New app helps Rio locals avoid shootouts

Every day, Rio de Janeiro witnesses an average of 15 gun battles dramatic enough for any Hollywood action film and a small group of volunteers has developed an app to enable residents to avoid the crossfire.

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Onde tem tiroteio (Where There’s a Shootout), known as OTT, offers nearly instantaneous notification of armed robberies and gunfights throughout the city.

“The idea emerged in December 2015,” project creator Benito Quintanilha said. “I saw a news report about someone hit by a stray bullet in a Rio neighbourhood and I thought ‘why not create a (web) page, a means to alert the Rio population about where there are shootouts.'”

After launching the effort via Facebook, the 41-year-old oil worker found himself overwhelmed by the task and sought help from two friends, physicist Marcos Vinicius, and programmer Denis Colli.

Henrique Coelho Caamano joined the team later.

“We got together and created a template, we have a form,” Quintanilha said. “Each one of us has a task. Enrique and I are in charge of operations, we receive the messages. Marcos Vinicius is in charge of administration, and Denis is our IT expert, he provides support if there’s any trouble with the apps.”

The alerts, which now circulate on Twitter, Instagram, and Telegram as well as Facebook, reach nearly 3 million people, almost half the population of Rio de Janeiro.

To prevent false alarms, the group maintains strict operational standards and relies on a network of trusted informants across the city.

Marcos Vinicius recalls proudly a message the team received by grateful parents who called them “guardian angels” after an OTT alert allowed one of their children to avoid getting caught in the middle of a shootout.