Palisadian Mom Takes Action

Motivated by Distressing Experiences, Gail Schenbaum Lawton Designs Umergency to Help Others


It began with a phone ringing in the middle of the night, awakening her to every parent of a college student’s worst nightmare. Her youngest, Alex, was a freshman attending an out-of-state university.

“She said very little,” Gail Schenbaum Lawton explained. “I remember it verbatim: ‘Mom, it’s me. I’m in an ambulance. There’s been an accident. I’m OK, but it’s really bad.’

“The EMT then said something terrifying: ‘I’m calling with a partial amputation. We’re pulling into emergency. We’ll call you back.’”

The line went dead.

Panic set in as she realized she had no resources, not even the phone number of her daughter’s roommate or resident advisor. And without signed consent forms, parents of students 18 and older are not allowed to receive information from their child’s medical personnel and are left completely in the dark.

Luckily, the ER eventually called to tell her what was going on, but only because Alex had called her earlier in the night. Twelve long hours later, the surgery was over and Alex’s thumb was successfully reattached.

But even with their own nightmare over, Schenbaum Lawton knew that for future college families, it wasn’t.

More than 4.5 million college age individuals visit the ER every year, many because of alcohol-related incidents or sexual assault. And most parents are not prepared for a health or safety emergency happening to their kids at college.

Motivated by her own experience, Schenbaum Lawton and her brother, Barry, wanted to create an emergency app to connect college families in the case of a crisis. They put together a team and after years of research, the input of many first responders and colleges, plus hundreds of parent and student focus groups, Umergency was launched.

Umergency gives students and parents access to information about local and on-campus services specific to each student’s campus and also stores user-entered data, such as their allergies or medical conditions.

Additional features include the ability to upload and securely share a copy of the student’s health insurance card and a digital medical consent form, which can allow the student’s trusted friends and family to receive confidential information in the event of an emergency.

The app also includes hotlines for suicide prevention, sexual assault and poison control. Schenbaum Lawton ensured that the app is always free for student download ($7.99 annually for non-students and parents).

It has been met with a great deal of success on campuses and with families. Since its recent launch, the app has won the award for Excellence in Health Technologies at the 10th Annual Media Excellence Awards.

And this is not Schenbaum Lawton’s first rodeo: In 2010, she was the trailblazer for a teen safe driving program called In One Instant.

Like with the conception of Umergency, she was driven by a personal, distressing experience. Within only two years of her daughters being at Palisades Charter High School, Schenbaum Lawton had accompanied her children to three funerals for friends who were killed in car crashes.

She was moved, and so after working with dozens of Pali High teens and using her experience in the film industry, she created the life-saving, award-winning program In One Instant, a by teens for teens film program and assembly that educates and empowers teens to make smart driving choices.

Today, it is implemented in 40 states across the U.S.

In addition to being an entrepreneur and mom, Schenbaum Lawton is an active member of the Kehillat Israel congregation, avid Palisadian-Post reader, and enjoys hiking and spending time at the beach.