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About 50,000 Austin-area users have already downloaded Citizen, a smartphone app that reports real-time police and emergency medical threats. Austin is already one of Citizen's most popular cities since the company soft-launched here late last year.
"It's one of our top markets after cities like New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago," Citizen spokesperson Lily Gordon told Austonia via email.
The app relies on hired analysts and user-generated content to track every 911 call and public safety dispatch in the city. Users receive alerts about nearby incidents directly on their cell phone lock screen, and reports are updated live with additional details as well as audio and video recordings as they become available.
While there are numerous services similar to Citizen, including the city-built Austin PD smartphone app, Citizen claims to be the most popular since its launch in 2017. In total, the app has been downloaded by 5 million people across 20-plus metropolitan areas.
Citizen has already live reported several notable events in Austin. In addition to daily local COVID-19 updates, the app served as an information resource during downtown social unrest in late May and June.
More recently, Citizen dominated coverage during two September news events: when five boats sank during a pro-Donald Trump boat parade rally on Lake Travis (Sept. 4) and again when two construction cranes collided, injuring 22 workers in the Mueller neighborhood (Sept. 16). During both news events, the smartphone app scooped some local news outlets with live breaking news updates from analysts and Citizen users.
"We were proud that we were able to provide real-time updates on this major story to more than 30,000 Austinites and be a resource for local news outlets," Gordon said via email. "As a real-time safety app, this example points to how we are in a unique position to provide up-to-the-minute updates about developing public safety incidents."
As part of its "official" Austin debut in April, the company hired freelance help to increase activity on the platform. Austin native Brian Smith, who runs @txmobilenews on Twitter as a freelance videographer, helped Citizen cover breaking news events in Austin as part of its "Street Team Program." He posted videos of public safety threats directly to the app, getting paid for each scene he documented.
The street team disbanded after the first month because of COVID-19 health concerns. Smith did similar stringer work while living in New York City. But Austin doesn't have as many breaking news stringers—think Jake Gyllenhaal's character in "Nightcrawler"—as the larger news markets.
"I'm kind of the only one who does the videos for the television networks," said Smith, who works as head of sales for a technology startup during the day. "This market just doesn't support it."
Even though Smith is no longer paid by Citizen for his side hustle, he still uses the app to find breaking news events to cover for the highest bidder. He even posts the occasional video clip from a news event as long as it doesn't compete with his freelance work.
From his experience, the app has proven reliable and accurate, and it's only improving.
"I do believe the people behind Citizen are committed to doing the best they can to put the best information out there to inform the public," Smith said.
Public safety alerts are blasted to Citizen users each time a 911 call is documented. Users can customize the extent they receive alerts.Citizen app
Many users on Citizen promote news from the app on other social platforms, including Westlake resident Dennis Lastor, who posts the occasional breaking alert to Twitter. The city has become less safe since he moved here 21 years ago, he said, and Citizen helps document the extent of the issue.
"I wanted to see what kind of crime was going on and what kind of increase might be going on, and Citizen app was the only direct source showing the reality of what kind of crime was going on," said Lastor, who downloaded the app about three months ago.
Lastor, an engineer, says Citizen provides data that shows a rising crime trend as well as bizarre anecdotes about public safety risks in Austin. For example, there have been reports of multiple people chased by a machete-wielding man in one neighborhood, he said, and more than a dozen 7-Eleven convenience stores have recently been robbed.
According to the latest crime report from the Austin police chief, crimes against persons and property crime are down so far this year. Lastor acknowledges the app has the potential to confirm his own bias, so he also relies on other news sources to balance out Citizen.
Lastor and Smith also both reject any comparison to Nextdoor—another hyperlocal reporting service—which is sometimes ridiculed for its unsubstantiated "suspicious person" posts. In fact, Lastor just deleted his Nextdoor account.
"(Citizen) can be hypervigilant, so you may think it's World War III when it's just an average day, but the upside beats the downside," Lastor said.
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17 years and three medals later, Osterman's last ride with USA softball is over. What's next for Cat?
Nearly two decades after her debut with the University of Texas and 17 years after her first Olympic gold, softball icon Cat Osterman stepped off the Olympic pitcher's mound for the last time with a silver medal to take back home.
Osterman, a three-time Olympian who has been called the "Michael Jordan of softball," will officially retire from the international realm at 38 after a decorated career that included Olympic golds, years of retirement and plenty of adversity—from a worldwide pandemic to dashed gold-medal dreams.
Osterman and her crew left Tokyo on a bittersweet note on Tuesday with a silver medal in hand.
Osterman with Team USA in 2008. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
Osterman in the final in 2021. (Antoni Majewski/Twitter)
After a year of sparse in-person training and over a decadelong hiatus, Team USA and Osterman flew to the finals. In five games, the team beat Italy (2-0), Canada (1-0), Mexico (2-0), Australia (2-1), and Japan (2-1).
Deja vu struck in the final match. On one side, Osterman and fellow 2008 Olympic teammate Monica Abbott took the mound; on the other was the 39-year-old Yukiko Ueno, a familiar foe who helped the team beat Team USA last go-round.
"Just like 13 years ago," Ueno said in a press conference, "we were facing each other in the final."
Ueno, who had lost hopes at gold to Osterman in '04, outpitched her longtime opponent with six scoreless innings as Team USA was held to just three hits. The same team that squandered their gold-medal hopes 13 years before had done it once again.
Your Tokyo 2020 Olympic Silver Medalists 🇺🇸#TokyoOlympics | @TeamUSA pic.twitter.com/MOMNOedHUd
— USA Softball Women's National Team 🇺🇸 (@USASoftballWNT) July 27, 2021
"There's a little bit of disappointment in not bringing home the gold since that's the eye on the prize when you go over there and you know you have a shot at it," Osterman told Austonia. "But more than anything, I'm very proud of the way our team handled everything that was part of this journey and not just the six games."
It's that very loss at the 2008 Olympics that partially motivated Osterman to get back on the mound. She officially put down the glove in 2015 after six seasons with the USSSA Pride, took time with family and began coaching at Texas State University.
Osterman helped ace Randi Rupp to greatness while a coach at Texas State University. (Active Voice Health/Twitter)
She thought her Olympic endeavors were well over—until talks of reinstating softball into the Games reentered the conversation.
"It wasn't until 2016 or 2017, that it ever crossed my mind to possibly put the USA uniform on again," Osterman said. "After the World Championships in 2010, I walked away, and I thought that my career on the international stage was done. So this was a pleasant kind of new opportunity."
Three years after facing any competition, Osterman was on the field once more with world-class athletes. Some, like Osterman and Abbott, had been playing together long enough to form a formidable "Fire and Ice" duo on the mound. Others had just graduated college.
Osterman said playing with a younger generation of athletes was one of the most rewarding aspects of this year's Games.
"It can be very different when you have 24- and 38-year-olds on the same field," Osterman said. "The adversity put us in some challenging positions and we came through with flying colors. And this group will forever be special just because what we had to go through is so different."
While on the mound, Osterman's job was to give the team a calm start. Off of the field, she felt her role had much of the same effect: she knew that new Olympic feeling, and she served as a deep breath to her first-time teammates.
"There's no words to explain how nervous and excited you get knowing that the whole world can be watching," Osterman. "I think using those emotions and figuring out how to get all our butterflies lined up and going in the right direction, so that way we were all moving together, was kind of my role outside of pitching."
We've heard her retire once before, but this time Osterman said she's gone for good—even from coaching. After her final time with Team USA on Sept. 27, she plans on returning to Austin, where she'll look to work for a nonprofit.
A gold and two silvers will have to do for one of the most decorated athletes in U.S. softball history.
"To be able to say you're a three-time Olympic medalist is a pretty special deal, right?" Osterman. "I played for a long time. But those are the pinnacle, in my mind, and kind of what elicits the dream to keep playing."
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Hospitals are facing a "significant" increase in admissions of pregnant women due to COVID-19 complications, Austin-Travis County health officials say, revealing what could be a long-term side effect of the virus.
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes met with three maternal medicine specialists on Monday morning to warn of yet another COVID-19 Delta variant concern: severe cases of the disease affecting unvaccinated mothers-to-be.
The doctors said unvaccinated pregnant women face an increased risk of preterm births, long-term effects, preeclampsia, ICU stays, stillbirths, being put on life support and even death if they are unvaccinated.
"We are really concerned that we are not getting that population of folks to hear this message of the safety of vaccines, so today we're assembled, one and all to say, wear a mask and please get vaccinated," Walkes said. "Vaccinations are the way to prevent severe disease and hospitalizations and death."
Medical Director of Maternal Fetal Medicine at St. David's Women's Center of Texas Dr. Kimberly DeStefano said 95% of pregnant women admitted with COVID-19 are unvaccinated, stressing that all pregnant and lactating women should get the vaccine not only to protect themselves but to protect their babies from infection, which can be passed through breastmilk or birth.
"We know that the earlier in pregnancy you are vaccinated, the more antibodies are present at the time of birth for the infant," DeStefano said. "This is something that's very important, both during the pregnancy and postpartum."
Catching COVID-19 while pregnant can cause adverse effects on the baby, particularly because it increases the risk of preterm births. Baylor Scott & White Maternal Obstetrics Chief of Maternal Medicine Dr. Jessica Ehrig, said that preterm births are one of the "biggest impacts" on childhood development.
"We know that (preterm births) can have long-term effects depending on how early a baby's born," Ehrig said. "It increases the risk for long term respiratory issues, for blindness sometimes (and) for neurologic development delays."
Since mid-July, COVID-19 hospitalizations have been on a steep rise that sent the city back to recommending Stage 4 guidelines. As the seven-day rolling average of hospitalizations surpassed 50 admissions, Stage 5 guidelines could be on the horizon. The city reported 54 new admissions and 546 total new cases on Friday.
Delta is more contagious than chickenpox, Walkes said, and even vaccinated individuals can catch and spread the virus without symptoms. The group of doctors asked everyone, especially pregnant women, to mask while in public as local hospitals pass the Stage 5 threshold.
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