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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Western’s emergency call box systems temporarily down

Current shutdown of emergency call box system leads to new emergency app to be announced in near future

An emergency call box located in the Fairhaven Complex parking lot in 2021.
An emergency call box located in the Fairhaven Complex parking lot in 2021. The call boxes are temporarily down on campus, but campus staff are looking for a more modern technologically advanced emergency system students can use. // Photo by Adriannah Roman

By Adriannah N Roman 

As Western Washington University prepares to update its emergency call services, the 23 emergency call boxes scattered around campus will remain out of service. The call box system allows students to call emergency services such as university police and 911 by dialing on the call box. 

The boxes, which were installed in the ’70s and ’80s, are not regularly updated, Western’s Chief of Police Darin Rasmussen said. 

“They are legacy systems. They have been here longer than I have,” said Rasmussen, who has worked for the Western campus police since 2012.

Rasmussen said students used the call system one or two times during a typical academic year, and dialing 911 might have been more efficient than using them. 

Mike Bruggeman, the director of campus safety and security at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, Michigan., said cellphone usage has become so popular in the last five years that most students have their phones at all times.

Paul Cocke, Western’s director of communications and marketing, said, “Western has seen similar increases in student cell phone usage and is looking to develop a safety app.” 

The university has partnered with Rave Alert, an alert emergency text messaging system that sends mass emergency texts. 

“We haven’t announced it yet, but we are looking at a new safety application,” Cocke said. “It is in its late stages.”

“We can send 20,000 plus text messages and 20,000 plus emails in under a minute,” Cocke said. “So it’s high-speed technology, and we know that students prefer receiving emergency alerts via text.”

When the application launches, Western will decide the fate of the call boxes and determine whether it is necessary to keep them up as well.

The decline in call box usage is typical among most colleges as most people have acquired handheld technology. 

Bruggeman said the College of Creative Studies campus adapted to the Overbridge alter system, a rapid emergency text message alert system, similar to Rave Alert. 

“The number one priority is the safety of students,” Bruggeman said.  

Rosemary Alliston, a second-year Western student studying pre-nursing, appreciated the call boxes’ presence because it gave her a sense of comfort.

“I did keep track of where the boxes were, just in case I did need to use it,” Alliston said. “But honestly, it would just be better to have the emergency system on our phones to begin with, because that is a lot easier than having to plan your route.”

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