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Monday, October 19, 2020

Are the emergency blue light call boxes obsolete?

By Samuel Fletcher

When nearly all of the blue light call boxes on campus were down at once, University Police hurdled over obstacles to get them running again. Over 20 of the 30 total call boxes were out of commission due to an undisclosed software issue, according to a campus advisory email.

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As of Sept. 27, all of the emergency phones on campus are repaired and functioning as usual.

During the time the boxes were down, students were advised to use 911 to contact police at any time instead.

According to University Police media logs, dialing 911 may be a student’s first nature anyway. It seems to be the more natural response too. In 2016 and 2017, the call boxes were only activated nine times.

No one was present at the call box for six of the nine times police showed up.

During that same timeframe,  the emergency phones had been out of order twice due to similar technical issues, according to the logs.

According to a public records request, it cost over $2,000 to repair the most recent software issue.

“There is no ongoing contract for maintenance for the blue light phones,” Public Records Officer Dolapo Akinrinade said in an email response. “This work is typically done by in-house staff in Facilitates Management. For [this case], the university procured the assistance of an outside vendor, Action Communication, to assist with the repair.”

So far, the blue light phones have not been activated a single time in 2018, according to the university police media logs.

If time is not an immediate issue, most students’ go-to response to a dangerous situation or witnessing suspicious activity would be to use their personal cell phone, first-year student Quentin Siuchet said. His reason for not using the phones are simple.

“I haven’t seen the use to or needed it,” Siuchet said.

Director of Communications and Marketing Paul Cocke said call boxes such as these exist on many college campuses. Their lack of use might not be because they are not useful, but because they are outdated.

“The system undoubtedly predates the proliferation of personal cell phones,” Cocke said in an email response. “The phones that were not working are actually radio-based and use a radio repeater to connect to University Police Department dispatch.”

Third-year student Jenny Harding said she feels safer with the call boxes, knowing they are for if a student is in danger, she said. Still, her first thought would be to dial 911.

“If I saw [a threat], I’d use [the call box],” first-year student George Barling said. “I’d press this and then I’d probably also try calling 911, but my go-to would be to use my phone.”

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