A historic neighborhood struggling with an increase in property crime looked for an affordable and effective tool to mobilize neighbors and protect their historic housing stock.

Alert System

The Gist

Utilizing a free cellphone texting system intended for organizing flash mobs, a neighborhood developed a text message alert system to notify neighbors of crimes and calls for assistance.


The Historic Hubbard Farms neighborhood struggled with a rise in petty property crimes and home invasions, in particular vagrants who preyed on vacant houses for either scrapping or squatting. Residents, frustrated by poor police response times, utilized free flash mob cell phone technology to mobilize themselves to help one another and secure vacant properties in their community.

Project Scope

60+ participants in the Hubbard Farms neighborhood of Detroit.

Alert SystemAccomplishments

  • Created a system where neighbors can notify each other of emergencies through a simple text message system
  • Averted several home invasions, preventing the theft or damage of tens of thousands of dollars in personal property
  • Identified multiple perpetrators and assisted police in at least 4 arrests
  • Built a sense of empowerment in a neighborhood struggling with crime
  • Strengthened community connections that have led to new neighborhood social events like strolling dinners and meet-ups


No cost, outside of individuals’ cellphone bills.



Alert SystemEquipment

To participate, individuals must have a cellphone with texting capabilities.


Organizer creates an account on website of GroupMe. Organizer then adds participants through the GroupMe site.


There is a limitation of 100 people allowed in the system through GroupME.

Actions Taken

Setup System: Visit GroupMe, or equivalent flashmob/mobile organizing software, to set up an account for your group.

Solicit Neighbors: Tap in to existing communication methods in your community, such as neighborhood email listserves, neighborhood fliers, or traditional door knocking.

Register Participants: Through the GroupMe website, insert participants’ phone numbers. They will receive a text message confirmation and a notice will go out to the entire group.

Define Actionable Emergencies: From the beginning it’s important that a core group of participants establish what types of emergencies the group is willing to respond to.  Hubbard Farms Text Group typically responds to:

  • When home security systems go off and the owner is not able to immediately respond
  • When a squatter is present in a vacant building
  • When a petty crime such as theft or breaking or entering is witnessed
  • Emergency boarding up of vacant homes

Alert SystemThe group does not respond to instances that present an immediate threat to anyone’s safety including drug deals or gun violence.

Stay Safe: Establish ground rules that includeprohibiting confrontation.  The role of responders is primarily to assist if someone is in immediate danger or stay at the scene until the police arrive to be a witness.

Always Call 911: This system is not intended to replace calls to 911. It is important to stress to participants to call 911 first, and then contact the neighborhood group through the text messaging system.

Similar Projects: Neighbors in the West Village of Detroit utilized a similar system in 2012 to stop the scrapping of a historic mansion in their community.

Alert SystemLessons Learned

Establish appropriate messages to share over the texting service. Since each text may be costing participants, its important only essential texts pertaining to the emergency and the immediate response are used.

People will not always understand the system and how it is used, especially at first. It is important to have patience and an organizer of the group that keeps the group focused and true to its original purpose.

Make sure people understand that they will regularly be receiving text messages and should consider their phone package before joining.


Bob Anderson, [email protected]