Blue Light phones on campus broken, need replacement

Oswego State students coming back from a late-night study session at the library have good reason to be nervous while walking back to their dorms.

All four of the Blue Light emergency phones on the school’s campus are currently out of order.

Blue Light call boxes are found all over college campuses throughout the U.S. They provide direct access to police dispatch in emergency situations.

According to the latest annual report by Oswego State’s University Police Department, as of 2011 there was only one case of the Blue Light system being activated, a decrease from 2010, which had four recorded cases.

The school plans to replace the existing lights with 22 updated versions, according to Lt. Kevin Velzy of U.P.

“They will be replacing [the existing lights] with 22 Blue Light stations which will be strategically placed across the entire campus,” Velzy said.

But since the school has not found a manufacturer and the funds are not in order, the plans are at a stand-still.

Velzy said that he hopes the new system will be put to better use than the previous ones currently on campus.

“When we did have them in service they weren’t utilized,” Velzy said. “Most of the calls we responded to were just people fooling around with the box.”

Velzy explained that a few years ago he applied for a grant to replace the current boxes. He discovered that replacing just one would cost the school $12,000, making the total for fixing all four boxes $48,000.

Blue Lights on the Oswego State campus were installed in the early ‘80s, when these small boxes were first being introduced across college campuses in the U.S.

Now these yellow boxes have become outdated, and with this being the age of cellphones, they have become practically obsolete.

“When they were installed, that was before the age of cellphones,” Velzy said. “Now everyone has a cellphone… If you want to communicate with us directly you don’t need to run and find a box.”

Recently, Oswego State has been pushing more toward the Rave Guardian safety feature, which is an application students can register for online.

Rave Guardian turns any cellphone into a personal safety device. Once students register for the application, it features a panic call and precautionary timer.

With the panic call, students can set a one-touch panic button on their phone. When their phone speed dials U.P., it triggers an alarm that automatically sends police the student’s profile information.

The profile information will include the name and photo students provided upon registration of the app.

The precautionary timer allows students walking across campus to activate a clock set to the amount of time they think it will take to get to their destination. When the student reaches their destination they must deactivate the timer. If it is not deactivated, university police will call their phone to make sure the student made it to their destination safely.

“The Rave Guardian system, in this day and age, is state of the art,” Velzy said. “It’s been the fill-in-the-gap until we figure out if we need to do something differently.”

But this new technology has its flaws. Velzy explained that Rave Guardian works best with Verizon carriers.

“Verizon is really good with its GPS, so we can pinpoint where students are,” he said. “With Sprint, not so much…If you have a Sprint phone it doesn’t work as well with the Rave Guardian.”

For now, the school is basing the future of their interactive security features on what’s being utilized the most. They have noticed that the Rave Guardian has been popular among students.

Valerie Lucus is the emergency and business continuity manager at the University of California. In her opinion article, “Should College Campuses Continue to Deploy Blue Light Phones?” published on emergencymgmt.com, she looked into whether or not colleges should continue to use Blue Light phones.

“The fact is they are not used,” she wrote. Lucus explained that having the lights on campus are pointless: “The lights offer a false sense of security…They are expensive to install and maintain.” She also said that a majority of students have cell phones nowadays and would most likely use those instead of the Blue Light phones.

In her article Lucus proposed to get rid of them all together. “I’m a parent. I have a daughter in college. I’d vote to take the Blue Light phones out and apply that money against the next tuition hike.”

SUNY Potsdam has 28 working Blue Lights throughout its North Country campus. Kathy LeClair, dispatcher for Potsdam’s campus police, has seen steady usage of the Blue Light system throughout her ten years at the school.

“We probably get 60 calls a semester [on the Blue Lights],” she said. “The calls are mostly from people who have a flat tire or their car won’t start.”

LeClair explained that most of the emergency calls do not involve things like assault or stalking. “The calls have not been that serious in my ten years of being here,” she said.

The Blue Light system is a main security feature on the SUNY Potsdam campus, acting as the number one emergency call system available for students. As Oswego State pushes more toward the Rave Guardian, SUNY Potsdam is happy with their system.

“The Blue Lights are reliable,” LeClair said. “As far as I know, we are not changing anything with them.”

Amanda Muller is a junior English major at SUNY Oswego. Two times a week she walks 20 minutes back to her dorm after her late- night classes let out at 8:30 p.m.

“For the most part I feel safe on campus,” Muller said. But she explained that what worries her the most is that she does not know much about the emergency features available to students.

“The one Blue Light that I know of is out of order,” she said. “What’s the point of even having it on campus if they don’t work?” Muller was also unaware that the school offered the Rave Guardian to students.

She said that students and parents would probably feel safer knowing that all the Blue Lights on campus functioned, but she questions if she would actually use the Rave Guardian or call boxes at all.

“If I was nervous about walking back at night, I would probably just call my mom or a friend and have them talk to me while I walk,” Muller said.

Though she contemplates whether or not she would use these features, Muller knows that they would come in handy during emergency situations. Overall she said she wants the school to install more.

“The way it is now, no one is using them,” she said. “But you never know when someone will need one…The problem is that they’re not easy to find or get to.”

Muller was happy to find out that the school is planning on replacing the boxes with updated system in more location.

“Maybe now they will be easier to find and students will actually utilize these newer versions,” she said.

The Oswego State University Police Department is made up of 21 officers who do routine foot, bike and vehicle patrols to keep an eye on the campus.

“We stress to students all the time that this is a community and we’re here to help, but they have to do their part in keeping themselves safe too,” Velzy said. Oswego State U.P. urges students to establish a buddy system to ensure each and every person makes it to their destinations safely.