Beyond the Blue Light

January 25, 2012

Blue Lights are security placebos, not real security. Yet these obsolete systems still occupy college campuses nationwide, and are used as symbols of “campus safety”.

Public safety is an important aspect of any campus. College tours emphasize safety to nervous parents, concerned about their high school seniors leaving home.

Blue Lights are obsolete and should be removed from campuses.

Visiting parents are directed toward the towering symbol of campus safety, the Blue Light. Here we are told how the Blue Light will protect our children at college.

In theory, students who feel endangered can run to the nearest Blue Light and press a button to call campus police. Often, the number of seconds before help is on the way is quoted.

Maintaining Blue Lights, their switches, electronics and dedicated phone lines is costly. But the most compelling reason to remove Blue Lights is they are not practical tools for real emergencies. At one campus which is planning to remove them, I learned that a single Blue Light was triggered once in the past few years. And that was a prank call. At a large, multi-campus university, the Director of Security said his Blue Lights were triggered 12 times in the past 18 months, for people asking for directions.

For the same reasons that forward-thinking towns have removed fire alarm boxes from poles, Blue Lights need to go. Fire alarm boxes are expensive to maintain, carry monthly service fees and were not used much, except for false alarms. When there is a real emergency, people can just use their mobile phones to call for help. This is a lot easier than running to find a call box.

Campus safety is better served by using the smartphones that college students have in their pockets. Students may sometimes forget to bring a book to class, but rarely do they forget their phones. Smartphones are the social heartbeat of a campus.

Times change, progress happens. It’s time for colleges to make smartphones an integral part of their public safety toolkit. Let’s dismantle the Blue Light security placebos and replace them with useful tools, that are aligned with the mobile technology being carried by students and staff. Rapid two-way communication between the security officers and students is best implemented using Smartphones. Our ELERTS app effectively puts a Blue Light in every person’s pocket, a more useful and readily accessible one. When an emergency occurs, ELERTS enables students and staff to quickly send photos, text instructions and maps.

What do you think? Should colleges incorporate smartphones into their safety plans?


Crowdsourced Situational Awareness

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