This week, The Heights surveyed 120 emergency blue light phones across Main Campus, Newton Campus, and Brighton Campus and found 31 that were not in working condition or had blue lights that were not lit. That total means that over 25 percent of blue light phones were not in fully working order. Two of these blue lights, often a staple talking point on campus tours but are rarely used in practice, were on Upper Campus, two were on College Road, two were on Middle Campus, and four were on Lower Campus. The Comm. Ave. Garage had 13 broken lights and Beacon St. Garage had two. There were also four lights not working on Brighton Campus and two on Newton Campus.
All 31 emergency phones had blue lights that were not lit. Four of the lights had emergency call boxes that were not operational.
“Security technicians and BC network personnel are working on making various repairs to phones,” BCPD Chief John King said in an email.
Police and security officers will routinely file work orders when they learn that an emergency blue light phone needs to be fixed, according to King.
Facilities Management was not able to comment at press time on the number of work orders it has received for blue lights.
The phones are intentionally placed so that students can see at least one more blue light from every phone, especially at night. From many locations on campus, one can see multiple phones, King said.
In the event of an emergency, a student can press a button on the blue light phone, which will immediately call BCPD. An officer can talk to the student through the interface. Once the button is pressed, a BCPD vehicle is immediately sent to the location.
Students living at off-campus residence halls like 2000 Comm. Ave. and Greycliff Hall do not have access to blue lights on the paths back to their dorms. This is also the case for students who live in off-campus houses and apartments. King said that students who feel unsafe can utilize Eagle Escort, a van service operated by BCPD that will transport students to and from locations at any time.
BC’s blue lights are checked by a BCPD staff member every four to six weeks, according to King. A technician is initially responsible for assessing the condition of the phones and will make a repair or cause a work order to be filed if he or she cannot make immediate repairs. But students do not often use the phones, though numbers do not exist regarding the frequency of their use.
“[Emergency blue light phones] are not used frequently and we do not keep statistics on how often they are used,” King said. “As part of the University’s campus security system upgrades, we will be replacing some of our aging phones over the next several months.”
The new phones will be equipped with the latest versions of blue light technology and some will feature broadcast capability, King said.
A standard blue light will cost around $5,500 and a wall-mounted one will cost around $3,000, according to Security Product Solutions, a company that produces industrial security products based in Texas.
It is not a requirement or law for universities to have emergency blue light phones, but it is a feature that BC, along with many other universities, offers to keep students safe. In fact, the blue lights have a dedicated section in the handbook for BC tour guides, telling guides to put a heavy emphasis on the fact that there are “over 100 blue light call stations spread across campus [with] always one in line of sight.”
“It simply doesn’t make sense to continue to maintain this outdated technology when we have not received a legitimate emergency call from these phones in several years.”
—Melissa Zak, chief of police for CU-Boulder to colorado.edu
But many of these blue lights were installed over several decades, before the prevalence of smartphone technology. Despite this, many universities believe the technology is necessary, such as the University of Connecticut.
UConn has 273 blue lights on its main campus in Storrs, Conn. Stephanie Reitz, UConn’s university spokesperson, said emergency blue light phones are useful in cases in which students do not have access to their cell phones, for example, if they were lost or stolen. A blue light phone nearby would be crucial to their safety in those cases.
UConn performs remote diagnostics on its blue light system on a nightly basis, pinging each phone to see if it is working. The university also does physical checks on the phones four times each year. During these physical checks, hundreds of staff members are assigned to individually stand in front of blue light phones. Each phone is then activated, and the staff members report back whether or not the phone is working.
Northeastern University has about 100 blue lights on its campus, according to Michael Monaco, an officer of the Northeastern University Police Department. There is no sign of the university removing or replacing the blue lights any time soon, Monaco said.
Monaco believes the emergency blue light phones are important because they provide students with a direct line to the police department in case of an emergency. The phones are in a fixed position, so the police can track from which location the student calls. Monaco said that in certain cases, mobile phones can be unreliable in terms of tracking position because cellular service can potentially be spotty. The blue light phones can be more reliable in certain cases and are good to have in an emergency, he said.
NU maintains its blue light system by sending an officer to check every blue light each month. If a blue light is not working properly, the officer will report it back to his superior and the light will be fixed as soon as possible.
Although universities like BC, UConn, and NEU are sticking to the traditional emergency blue light phone system, other universities have already began to phase out or remove their blue light phone system entirely.
The University of California, Davis removed all of its 107 emergency blue light phones in 2011 because the campus had been overtaken by the wide use of cellphones on campus. Only 18 of the phones were replaced with service phones with keypads that have the ability to dial campus phone numbers, including 9-1-1. Another reason the university removed the emergency blue light phone system was because of the $36,000 annual cost to maintain it.
The University of Colorado Boulder removed its 80 emergency blue light phones in December 2015.
“It simply doesn’t make sense to continue to maintain this outdated technology when we have not received a legitimate emergency call from these phones in several years,” Melissa Zak, chief of police for CU-Boulder, said to colorado.edu. “The ‘blue light’ phones were a great technology 20 years ago, but they have become outdated as mobile technology expands.”
Mobile apps like bSafe or My Force are being used more widely on college campuses to provide safety to students.
BC has its own emergency safety app, Crisis Manager, which students can download for free on the app store. The app’s primary function is to provide information about different emergencies that can happen on campus. The app also features direct dial emergency contacts. Despite the functionality of the app, there is no indication that this app, or any other emergency app, will replace BC’s emergency blue light phone system anytime soon.
“I don’t think cell phones will make the need for these phones obsolete given that our campus has many visitors who may not be aware of how to contact the BCPD in the event of an emergency,” King said.
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor