“A Blue Light in Your Pocket”

blueLightPhone

Photo: courtesy of brockport.edu

By Johnny Nixon

The Blue Light system is a series of phones that have been placed across campuses around the country to be used as an emergency contact system. With the rise of cell phone use and campus safety apps, some campuses are reconsidering the value of maintaining the Blue Light System.

There are 47 Blue Light phones located across the College at Brockport campus, but Chief of University Police Edward Giblin says that they are rarely used.

“In the past 8 years that I have been at the college, I remember the phones being used only once for a medical emergency. A student was having a seizure,” said Giblin. “They have also been used a couple of times when students have requested an escort.”

Other than those few instances, Giblin says they have received prank calls, in which they only hear giggles at the other end of the line.

The SUNY New Paltz campus has recently taken measures to add another level of safety for their faculty and staff by implementing an app called Rave Guardian.

Deputy Chief Mary Ritayik of the New Paltz campus police said that the decision to switch to the app as a primary means of safety on the campus was in part influenced by advancements in technology.

“Blue Light was around since landlines, when people had to go to a specific location for a phone,” Ritayik said. “It was great tech 40 years ago. We still have them but they are hardly used.”

Ritayik says the phones are great to have around if someone’s cell phone were to die, but for the most part cell phones have replaced them as a primary source of emergency communication.

“We heard about Rave Guardian,” Ritayik said. “We were already using the Rave text system for mass notifications. This app has great benefit. We call it like a ‘Blue Light in your pocket’.”

Ritayik described the usefulness of the app, saying that it has a wide range of benefits. The app includes functions such as a timed alarm, a GPS locator, and even the option to fill out medical and personal information that could assist first responders to an emergency.

She said the app is especially useful on college campuses when students have to walk somewhere and are concerned for their safety.

“The timer function allows students to set a timed alarm,” Ritayik said. “Say you list your roommate as a contact [on the app], so if you are walking from your room to the library, you set the timer to say, 15 minutes, or however long it takes you to get there. Once you get to your destination, you would turn the timer off… If you don’t turn it off, the app notifies your roommate, who could then call you or go to your location to see if you are alright.”

Ritayik said that the university police allows students to list them as a designated contact for the timed alarm. They have a computer specifically set up to receive the notifications and automatically accept. The police can then call the phone that sent the alarm to see if everything is alright, similar to how the Blue Light system would works after being activated.

If the police are needed for an emergency or escort or receive no reply, they will send a car to the phone’s location.

Although Blue Light is no longer used as a primary source of communication by the New Paltz campus police, Ritayik still thinks it is important to have them available on the campus.

“It is a nice resource to have their, say you lose your phone or it dies, it is important to be able to still make a call,” Ritayik said.

However, some have argued that cell phones have rendered the Blue Light System completely obsolete. The University of Colorado Boulder has recently removed the system from their campus entirely.

“It’s is just not being used,” said Ryan Huff, CU Boulder’s campus spokesperson. “It has been several years since the campus has received a legitimate phone call through the system.”

The university installed the system over 20 years ago. Huff said that by the time they made the decision to uninstall the system, the phones were outdated and needed replacement parts.

“Instead of dumping more money into a system no one was using anyway, we pulled all of the phones, and instead invested the money into a safety app, which is called Lifeline,” Huff said.

The app is a free service that the campus takes great measures to market to their students. The link to the app store is located on the school website, and they encourage students to download it.

Huff said that students do not need to rely on a phone system to stay safe. 

“It’s a multilayered process. We encourage students to walk with a friend at night,” Huff said. “It is important to have well lit areas and to encourage people to be good bystanders.”

Huff believes that educating students on taking precautions is the best way to keep them safe.

At Brockport, Chief Gilbin thinks that although the Blue Light Phones are hardly used, they remain an important part of campus safety.

“Most of our phones are equipped with exterior speakers,” Giblin said. “If we have to make an emergency announcement, students will hear it. We do tests once a semester, and you can hear the messages inside and outside of the buildings on campus, say if you out near a parking lot.”

While the Brockport campus still hasn’t decided on an app, Chief Giblin says the campus police are currently looking into one to implement.

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