Series: The investigation of the blue lights on campus

Meghan Kenney February 1, 2018 0

Following an anonymous tip at the end of the fall semester, “The Etownian” investigated the blue light system on campus. This source claimed that the blue lights have not been updated in quite some time and that they were completely inactive. However, “The Etownian’s” recent investigation revealed that almost all of the blue lights on campus do in fact work.

Since speaking with Powell in November, the blue lights were checked two more times, most recently on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018 by Campus Security Officer Lt. Gordon Smith and The Etownian staff writer Meghan Kenney.

Smith had a list of all of the call boxes around campus and we hit every single one of them, including those in elevators and buildings. We would press the button and then wait for a response.

If we got a response, we would ask, “Can you hear me?” and if the dispatcher responded in the affirmative, we would place a checkmark on the list and move on to the next box.

However, there were three boxes that did not work: the elevator in the Hackman North Apartments, the elevator in Zug Hall and one of the boxes on the path to the softball field.

The box in Hackman North rang a bit and made fuzzy noises while the other two were seemingly completely dead. We then taped on a sign that said that the box was not operational and made a note on the list to later send to Facilities. The box in Zug already had a sign on it, meaning that it has at least been broken since Dec. 2017.

There was also one box that we could not access, and that was the box in the elevator that goes to The Body Shop because the elevator itself is not operational. Other than that, as of Jan. 24, 2018, we can report that almost all of the blue lights on campus do work.

If a blue light did not work, it would most likely be marked if someone, such as Smith, was aware that it did not function.

As I observed on my investigation with Smith, any nonfunctional blue lights would be marked with a laminated bright orange piece of paper that would be taped to the front of the box over the call button to make it obvious that box did not work.

Powell believes that part of the reason for the rumors that the blue lights do not work is that since the system is very old, many of the phones are nearing their “end of life,” which is when the phones die from age, so some of them are starting to fail.

Etown is also beginning to cut down on blue lights due to the popularity of the LiveSafe app.

“[The blue light system is] a necessary system in theory, but it could be executed better by making the blue lights more visible and accessible to students,” first-year Emmett Ferree said.

In an ideal scenario, Powell says that Etown would switch completely to LiveSafe, but as Smith said, the people in charge of these decisions do understand the possibility of a student not having access to LiveSafe.

Powell said that Facilities, ITS and Campus Security are working together to try to identify newer devices that, with the right amount of funding, can replace the current system as the current phones reach their “end of life,” which will be staggering because the phones were not all originally installed at the same time.

The call boxes work like a normal telephone: a student presses the call button, the box rings like a telephone and the on-call Campus Security officer answers.

The dispatcher can tell which box is calling based on the Caller ID. There are no cameras pointing directly at any of the boxes on campus, so unless there happens to be a camera in range of a blue light, events are not recorded.

Once the dispatcher picks up, the dispatcher and the person who activated the blue light can have a back and forth conversation. Even if a student hits a blue box by accident, Campus Security will still send someone to the activated box.

The blue light system is used throughout campuses all over the country. The system was designed before cell phones became a staple in society.

According to, blue lights are credited with creating a sense of security on campuses. This is because criminals have become accustomed to what the lights are, so they are less likely to commit crimes near one of the lights. On many campuses, such as the University of Delaware, they pride themselves in the amount of blue lights that they have around their campus.

“Most universities advertise that you can see multiple blue lights from each one that you stand at,” first-year Shannon Clarke said. “But at Etown, sometimes you can stand at one blue light and have no idea where the next closest would be.”

In fact, at Etown there are places, such as Founders Residence Hall, where there are no blue lights in sight. The closest blue lights to Founders are at Brinser Field and the parking lot of the Vera Hackman Apartments.

“I don’t even know where the closest blue light is right now, but I feel as though I should know where two or three are at all times, so that I always know that I have somewhere to go,” Clarke continued.

“In the case of emergency, I feel confident, but I live in Royer, meaning that the closest blue light is all the way up by the stop sign,” sophomore Royer Residence Hall Resident Assistant Savannah Martinez said. “If I was in a situation where a blue light was needed, I would need to run all the way up to reach it, which does not seem safe. Sometimes I feel unsafe about walking back at night and that distance makes me nervous.”

There are 34 blue lights (between the traditional call boxes on lamp posts around campus and elevator phones), 18 of which are highlighted on the College’s website, Powell said in November. He said they are checked for functionality monthly and fixed by Facilities Management when they are broken.

Senior Jovanni Diaz works for Facilities over breaks and helps electrician Christopher Pauzer with any repairs that he may need assistance with.

Diaz said that over winter break, he and Pauzer “went through and checked all of [the blue lights] and repaired every blue light that was outside.” He said that their only problem was the blue light in front of the Young Center because “part of that failed,” causing them to have to wait and fix it the Monday before classes began. He and Pauzer had to make sure that all repairs were made before students returned from break because “working around students is a hassle.”

“A lot of them haven’t been fixed in years, so with that in mind we knew some weren’t working, so we went around and checked them all,” Diaz said. The call box in the elevator in Zug Memorial Hall was not repaired over winter break by Pauzer and Diaz because there were contractors in charge of fixing it, but now Pauzer will be fixing it with no prior knowledge of how to fix this particular issue.

Diaz says that work orders are sent in daily and are fixed on a first come first served basis, so the call boxes are not prioritized.

According to Powell, there was one activation of the blue lights during the fall semester and before that, the last activation was in 2012.

The majority of the calls received by Campus Security are received over the phone or over LiveSafe.


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