For 5 Questions this week the Herald speaks with Gannon Engkvist, newly graduated from UND, who turned a school project into a smartphone application providing Grand Forks County residents with safety information. Engkvist works with the Grand Forks County Emergency Management Department. The Grand Forks County Safety application is available from Google Play, but is not yet in Apple’s App Store.
Q: Please tell us about how you got started designing this app.
A: It started out as a senior project that tied into the emergency management office. It's something that I've been talking with (County Emergency Manager) Kari (Goelz) about since I was first hired as an intern, the summer after my freshman year. We talked a lot about what it should be or what it could be. Finally, senior year came around and the computer science department is pretty lenient with (letting us) either pick from a pool of projects, or we can get our own project we want approved. The department thought it was a good enough project for us to do. My partner in that class, his name is Sean Larson, worked to develop that through both semesters of the senior capstone project.
Q: What does the app do?
A: There's not a whole lot to it right now. It's mostly a lot of information, but in the future, we'd like it to have a lot more real-time information such as road closures within the county, maybe some interactive kid games, and potentially even an AI that could help with using keywords to find certain information. Right now, it has all the storm shelters within the county, and it's got hyperlinks in them so if you click on them it'll actually bring up your Google Maps with the exact location. It has information about the sirens and when they're tested in all the incorporated cities within the county, we've got some general safety tips, we've got a link to the National Weather Service for Grand Forks County specifically and we have some information about code red on there.
Q: Do you think the market is expanding to include more independent app developers?
A: I think so. There's definitely a lot more feasibility on the Google Play store just because of fewer restrictions. I definitely think there's a lot of people out there, maybe just a one-man team, or small teams that are either doing it as a hobby, or maybe as a side gig.
Q: You've just graduated from UND. What's next?
A: Just keep working for the county at this time. After that I'd like to move more into a developer specific role; I do have my degree in computer science. Growing up as a kid I wanted to work in the video game industry and the CGI industry, but after working with the emergency management department, it's really opened my eyes to more programs that help first responders.
Q: Do you see yourself designing more apps in the future?
A: Yeah I'd like to, I think it'd be good. Probably not on my own, I'd probably be working under a company, but that’s definitely what I'd like to do long-term.