There are about 140 emergency blue lights scattered across Boston College’s campus, according to BCPD Chief John King. The blue lights contain panic buttons that connect students directly with BCPD in an emergency. The idea behind this crisis-prevention system is that at least one blue light should be visible to a student or visitor at all times and locations, giving the campus widespread protection. This is currently not the case, however, as a Heights investigation revealed that 31 of 120 surveyed blue lights—a little over 25 percent—are not working in varying capacities—some have broken call panels and others have burnt-out lights.
This study reveals an obvious concern for public safety. Although the blue lights are not a frequently-used system, they are still a resource that should be readily available to students should an emergency occur. It is particularly alarming that 13 of the broken blue lights are located inside the Comm. Ave. garage, as blue lights are generally most useful in places where there are fewer people at night.
It would be a tragedy if a student were to need a blue light in a crisis situation and could not find one—or worse, to find that it was broken. The blue lights are also a preventative measure that help deter criminal activity and make students feel safer on campus. They fail to provide these positive benefits if they are not functioning correctly, or at all. The blue lights represent a significant financial investment, and if the University is going to spend the money to have them in place, it should also spend the time and money necessary to fix them.
One of the primary problems with the blue lights is that many of the actual blue lightbulbs on the towers are either out or failing to light up. The visibility of the towers is a key part of the effectiveness of the blue light system. In the dark, the beacon of a working blue light is hard to miss. But if the lights are out, someone in need of immediate assistance would probably have significant trouble locating a tower to call for help. Therefore, it is important that the University and BCPD take the necessary steps to repair or replace the broken lights that sit atop the emergency phones in order to prevent a tragic instance from occurring.
BCPD is currently in charge of managing the blue light system at BC. According to BCPD, the emergency blue light phones are surveyed every four to six weeks. It is concerning that some of the towers have been out of order for many months now. One blue light has been out since at least December.
Similarly, King has stated that BCPD does not keep a running record of which blue lights are used and when. This information could potentially be used in tracking crime on campus and identifying ways to improve public safety. Even if the records are not made public, BCPD should keep track of the uses of the blue light system for its own informational purposes.
There is a section of the BC tour guide handbook that emphasizes campus safety at the University by highlighting the blue light system. If tour guides are telling visitors and prospective students that they should be able to see another blue light when standing at one, then the blue lights should all be fully functioning. If the towers are broken, then the blue light system is effectively useless, and does not make BC’s campus a safer place for the student body or anyone else.
While some universities have made the decision to get rid of the blue lights on their campuses, removing the blue light system all together is not an adequate solution. Many universities have sought to replace their blue light systems with safety applications for smartphones. This is counterintuitive, however, as a blue light would most likely be needed in an emergency in which a person cannot immediately access their phone. While BCPD does have an app for students that contains safety information, it is not designed to put students directly in contact with campus police, and it certainly cannot replace the blue light system in its current capacity—such as a situation where someone’s phone may be out of battery or lost. Therefore, BCPD and the University should seek to more actively assess the functionality of the blue lights across the campus and should promptly repair the ones that are currently broken to avert a potential tragedy.
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor