MU stands by blue-light emergency phone system

The 214 emergency phones are stationed throughout campus.
A blue light emergency phone sits near Schweitzer Hall on Wednesday. The poles are placed around campus for students to use if they feel they are in danger.

With the rise of cell phone use and a recent California college's decision to do away with its emergency blue-light phone systems, many colleges, including MU, are facing the same question: Is the service worth the cost?

Dispersed throughout campus, MU's 214 blue-light phones will remain a facet of the emergency response system, Campus Facilities spokeswoman Karlan Seville said in an e-mail.

According to a report from Inside Higher Ed, the Contra Costa Community College District removed emergency call boxes from its campuses due to their high maintenance costs.

Missouri Students Association President Tim Noce said, at MU, the blue-light phones are strategically placed throughout the campus.

"Anywhere you're at on campus, you should be able to see a blue light," Noce said. "You have the opportunity to have that kind of safety feature there and ensure that you can get a hold of some kind of authority figure at any given time."

MU Police Department Capt. Brian Weimer said the police respond to every blue-light phone call.

"When the button is pressed, an officer will respond to address whatever the problem or issue is," Weimer said. "The phones simply just provide one more way for individuals in our community to contact our department if they need assistance."

The campus' emergency phone system, which includes emergency phones in elevators, residence hall buildings and parking structures and the blue-light system, has been used in 1,634 situations since July 2005, according to data from MUPD.

Of the calls, three resulted in filed reports. The most recent report was filed April 27 and the remaining two were in 2008.

Charles Gibson, chief of the Contra Costa Community College District police department, said in the Inside Higher Ed article that there has not been a verified emergency call in his five years at Contra Costa. Most uses of the phones came from people calling to report flat tires or ask for directions.

“The blue phones might make people feel good, but if I’m a bad guy, I’m not really deterred by that phone,” Gibson said.

Gibson said he expects most emergency calls to come in from cell phones.

Despite the low number of reports filed at MU as a result of the blue-light phones, Noce said the system is worthwhile even if it helps one person.

"Even if it just saves one person from being held at gunpoint for their wallet or something like that, it's definitely worth the money," Noce said.

Each emergency phone costs $25.25 per month to operate, Telecommunications Infrastructure engineer Mike Anderson said. This puts the operating cost for the system at about $64,842 annually. Anderson said he is unsure of the electrical cost for each blue-light phone, but guessed it was minimal.

Seville said maintenance on the blue-light phones is conducted frequent.

"Telecom services the telephones and the MU Police check to make sure the telephones are working," Seville said. "Campus Facilities has evening maintenance employees who check all outdoor lighting in parking lots, along pathways and emergency lights."

One of former MSA president Jordan Paul's goals in office was to post additional blue-light phones in Greektown.

"We commissioned a Greek Safety Survey to gauge what the safety issues and concerns were in the Greek community, and the blue-light item came back over 75 percent in favor of expanding blue lights," Paul said. "I don't know that there was a glaring need for more blue lights on any area of campus, but one area that did concern us was Greektown because so many students live there."

Because of these results, two new blue-light phones were added to Greektown in 2009.

According to Maneater archives, in 2009 the Student Fee Capital Improvement Committee rejected a funding request for additional emergency phones in Greektown due to the devices’ infrequent use.

"We didn't see enough of a usage in present emergency phones for actual emergencies," then SFCIC Chairman Bryan VanGronigen said.

VanGronigen, who is a former Interfraternity Council president, said the majority of calls were false alarms once police officers got to the phone.

Although Noce said he would like to see more blue-light phones on campus, he said MSA has been looking into a new safety measure similar to the blue-light phone system.

"There was another emergency phone service that we were looking into that has to do with having something on your cell phone that tracks it down," Noce said. "I don't know much about the new program since it's so new, but it essentially squeezes an entire emergency blue-light phone into your cell phone."

Noce said this would be beneficial to improve safety on campus, but it is unlikely to happen anytime soon because of financial issues.

"I definitely think that is a pretty viable option, but the problem is that it costs money," Noce said. "Budget times are pretty tight, and a lot of people aren't willing to spend money like they were a few years ago."

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