In an era where campus safety is more critical than ever, college administrators are under increasing pressure to provide secure environments for both students and staff.
Not only is campus safety the number one concern of parents when sending their children to school, but more than 82% of college students report feeling concerned about their personal safety on campus.
From surveillance cameras to security personnel to personal safety devices, a variety of measures are in place to ensure the well-being of the campus community. Among these, emergency blue lights have long stood as iconic pillars of safety, strategically scattered throughout college grounds.
While these blue lights serve as a visual reminder of security, the question arises: Are they actually effective?
With advancements in technology and shifts in safety needs, it’s crucial to re-evaluate whether these traditional systems still meet the complex safety needs of today’s college campuses.
What are Emergency Blue Lights?
Emergency blue lights have been a staple on college campuses for decades. Tall towers strategically placed around campus offer a quick connection to security or police at the press of a button, while also triggering a bright light to deter threats.
The idea behind these systems is to serve as a psychological deterrent, giving students and staff a sense of security and the assurance that help is just a button-press away.
Initially, these towers were among the few direct lines to emergency assistance, making them invaluable assets in campus safety planning.
However, the concept of emergency blue lights was developed in a different era, one without the ubiquity of smartphones and advanced GPS technology.
Limitations of Emergency Blue Lights
While emergency blue lights have served as a cornerstone of campus safety for years, it’s essential to recognize their limitations in the context of modern-day challenges.
Blue lights are stationary and limited to specific campus locations, leaving off-campus safety unaddressed. One study found that 93% of student-involved rapes occur off-campus, underscoring the need for a more comprehensive solution that addresses both on-campus and off-campus safety concerns.
Risk of Immobility
After pressing the button on an emergency blue light, the individual has to stay put while waiting for help. This immobility can increase the risk, as it prevents individuals from moving away from the source of danger, potentially making the situation even more hazardous.
Lack of Context
When a blue light is activated, responders are alerted, but they often lack contextual information. Is it a medical emergency, an act of violence, or something else? This absence of detail can impact the effectiveness of the response.
Given the decline in usage—sometimes only a few calls per year—the return on investment is questionable, highlighting the need for more cost-effective, modern safety solutions.
In an age where most individuals carry smartphones equipped with GPS, the need for stationary emergency call stations has diminished. Mobile solutions can offer more versatile and immediate ways to seek help.
“They don’t make me feel safe at all,” says Chris Mehr, sophomore at West Chester University. “If something was going to happen I really doubt I would have time or would think to run to one of the stations.”
Effectiveness of Emergency Blue Lights
In addition to the significant limitations of emergency blue lights, colleges and universities have reported mixed results in their impact on crime rates and usage.
Indiana University reported that over the course of 20 years, only four blue light calls were made for legitimate emergencies.
Creighton University had over 30 blue light emergency phones placed throughout the campus, but they hadn’t been used for a legitimate emergency call in over a decade.
Other colleges & universities have even removed these phones due to a lack of use.
Melissa Zak, Chief of Police at CU-Boulder, said more than 90 percent of the calls they receive from blue light phones are pranks or hang-ups. “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.”
This decline is concerning, especially when considering the high installation and maintenance costs associated with these systems. Is it justifiable to allocate significant resources to a safety measure that is seldom used?
“Nobody wants to be the first to remove the blue-light system completely,” says Terri Stewart, director of the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management at Ithaca College, “but somebody has to make the first move, and I feel like everyone else will follow suit.”
In a world where technology is advancing at an unprecedented rate, it’s crucial to explore modern alternatives that can better meet the safety needs of today’s college campuses.
Cell Phones as a Safety Measure
While some universities are phasing out emergency blue light systems in favor of cell phones, it’s important to recognize that smartphones alone are not a substitute for a comprehensive safety program.
Cell phones may offer convenience, but they lack specialized safety features and can be rendered useless in situations where quick action is required.
There are many app-only solutions available, but they’re problematic for numerous reasons.
First, they require the user to have the phone in their hand to activate an alert, which can end up distracting students from ambient dangers and attract unwanted attention.
They also have to scramble to find and open the emergency app, which can lead to more time lost, and may even be impossible to do in a stressful situation.
Enter POM Safe—a next-generation safety solution designed to address the challenges that traditional systems can’t.
Unlike cell phones, which are general-purpose devices, POM Safe is designed specifically for safety. It’s a portable one-touch device that can change the fate of users in seconds, offering features that smartphones simply can’t provide.
For instance, POM Safe allows for immediate two-way communication with security personnel and provides real-time GPS tracking, making it a far more effective tool in emergency situations.
A senior at Guilford College summed it up perfectly: “It’s great having what is effectively a blue light system in your pocket.” This sentiment captures the essence of what POM Safe aims to achieve—a portable, effective, and comprehensive safety solution.
POM also has many unique features that are custom-made for the higher education environment, such as the Walking Escort, AutoCall, AutoText, and Fake Call features.
Most importantly, POM Safe is a proven solution with real results. After being introduced on the campus of Creighton University in 2018, aggravated assaults decreased by 66%.
The Future of Campus Safety
Campus safety is a paramount concern that requires continuous evaluation and adaptation. While emergency blue lights have served as a longstanding safety measure, our exploration reveals that they come with limitations that can no longer be overlooked.
From limited reach and delayed response times to high maintenance costs, these traditional systems are falling short of meeting the complex safety needs of modern college campuses.
Modern alternatives like POM Safe offer a comprehensive solution that addresses the drawbacks of blue light systems.
With features like mobility, real-time communication, and GPS tracking, POM Safe provides a more effective and cost-efficient approach to campus safety.
Mobility and Accessibility
Unlike stationary blue lights, POM Safe devices are portable and can be carried by students and staff at all times. This ensures immediate access to help, no matter where you are on campus.
POM Safe offers real-time two-way communication with security personnel, providing crucial context to emergency situations. This allows for a more targeted and effective response.
Equipped with advanced GPS technology, POM Safe enables security teams to pinpoint the exact location of an individual in distress, reducing response time significantly.
Not only are POM Safe devices more versatile, but they also come with lower maintenance costs compared to traditional blue light systems, making them a financially sound investment.
“I consider POM to be a strategic investment in our campus security infrastructure,” said Michael D. Reiner, Senior Director of Public Safety at Creighton University. “I would rather put POMs in the hands of our students than continue to maintain obsolete blue light emergency phones.”
For college executives committed to ensuring the well-being of their students and staff, the time has come to rethink and modernize campus safety measures.
By embracing new technologies and solutions, we can create a safer, more secure educational environment for everyone involved.
Want to learn more about using POM Safe to keep your students and staff safe? Schedule a call to speak to the team today.