Visit any college or university and what’s bound to be on view during the campus tour? The school’s “blue light” emergency phone systems, a staple of campus security that came into widespread use roughly three decades ago and remains popular today.
But a secure campus isn’t as simple as having a system of outdoor phones that directly call campus police. There’s an ongoing debate as to how effective they are, and whether blue light call boxes are past their prime in the age of mobile phones.
Here are eight things to know about the blue light phone systems on college campuses.
- Blue light phones were established and became standard on college campuses before mobile phones became ubiquitous.
- The blue light phones are credited with creating a sense of security on campus. Authorities say crimes are less likely to happen near a blue light beacon, making it beneficial if your route home happens to pass through a campus route full of blue lights. But the blue light system does little for those who live off campus, or who are returning from an off-campus trip.
- Blue light phone systems usually include a phone or speaker with one button that directly calls campus security. The phones can also directly dial 911.
- By some accounts, the call boxes are rarely used, and when they are used, it’s to call for assistance for things like a flat tire or broken vehicle. At the University of North Carolina Greensboro, for example, campus police got nearly 10,500 calls in 2013, but only 90 came from the blue light phones.
- Some college campuses are phasing out the blue light system. Some college campuses are phasing out the blue light system based on a cost-benefit analysis and replacing the outdated system with solutions that use newer technology, like apps.. At the University of Colorado Boulder, the last of its 80 blue light phones was removed in late 2015. Authorities said the system had become outdated, that most calls to police came from mobile phones, and that of the few calls that did come from blue light phones, 90 percent were prank calls or hang-ups.
- But blue light emergency phones are still the standard on most college campuses today. Blue light phone systems were in use on 92 percent of college campuses, according to a 2012 study by the Bureau of Justice Statistics, which periodically conducts studies on campus law enforcement.
- The blue light phones in some places can cost $400,000 to install and $75,000 a year to maintain.
- Blue light beacons or poles are often retrofitted with other features so they serve more than one purpose. For example, some have speakers that can broadcast announcements, or security cameras that capture video footage.
One other thing to know based on the above? Take some security measures into your own hands. Beyond the obvious – don’t walk alone, observe your surroundings – think about a self-defense course or one of the new wearable security devices such as the Wearsafe Tag where the press of a discreet button can instantly alert those close to you that you need help, getting you the assistance you need quickly, wherever you are on campus.