At different locations on campus, students come into contact with what looks like a blue tower that reads “emergency” down the side. These blue phones are omnipresent, but how often are these safety devices really used?
According to Assistant Director of the Department of Public Safety John Ritchie, these blue phones are referred to by DPS as the Code Blue Phones. There are 17 blue phones located on campus, as well as on every floor of each of the residence halls.
For Ritchie, based on the statistics DPS has collected over the years, the number of students who have actually used these blue phones for a legitimate purpose is surprisingly low, given that their purpose is to aid students in a time of emergency.
Director of DPS Todd Pelazza agreed, saying that “they’re not widely used; they hardly ever get used.”
“Looking at our records, [there are] 466 uses of all time, but this dates back to 1999. This does not actually encompass all the times that they were used, because sometimes the phones are activated, we respond and investigate to find out that there was nothing,” Ritchie said. He clarified that 466 refers to the number of times the phones were activated for no legitimate emergency reason, since actual emergencies are labeled under a different category in DPS’s database system.
In most cases, Ritchie noted, “someone maliciously hit the button.”
He added, “Since Jan. 1, 2014, there have been 55 activations of the system that we have tracked, and they’re all no contact, unfounded, gone on arrival,” meaning that DPS arrived at the scene, only to find that there was no actual emergency situation at hand.
According to Ritchie, the last time that the emergency phone system was utilized for a legitimate reason was this past summer, when camps were being held on campus, but he noted that he does not know whether or not the system has been used for an emergency since the start of the school year.
While many students aren’t utilizing these safety devices around campus for emergencies, Ritchie said that “athletics has been known to use them when an athlete gets injured on a field.”
Sophomore Emily Jones feels that one of the reasons why these blue phones are hardly used on campus is because there is little need to. For her, Fairfield is a safe campus, and she rarely sees students threatened to the point where they actually need to call for security.
Senior Tim Dessureau also feels that the blue light system isn’t used often on campus, but doesn’t feel that the University shouldn’t do away with the system because of this.
“In my almost four years of being here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an incident when it was used, because people usually use their cell phones over the blue light, but it’s probably a good idea to have them just in case,” Dessureau said.
Pelazza acknowledged that just for that reason, blue lights are there because “if it is a true emergency, you might not have time to take your phone out.” For Ritchie, a benefit that the blue phones have as opposed to cell phones is “we’ll know where you’re at, because it does display on our board where you’re calling from. Especially if you don’t know where you’re at, hit the stinking button, we’re going to show up.”
However, Pelazza recognizes that this form of security is an outdated technology, since cell phones are more mobile. “Emergency phones require you to stay static, and if you’re a little bit worried about a suspicious person, and you want to move away from that person, you’re less apt to want to stand by the phone to make the call.”
Jones agreed that most students would be more inclined to use their cell phone to call DPS in the event of an emergency than one of the blue phones. She attributed this to the fact that almost all students have DPS’s phone number, so it’s easy for them to make the call quickly.
Additionally, Ritchie noted a few downfalls of the blue phones themselves, including the cost it takes to maintain them, as well as the time needed for a DPS officer to check and make sure all the phones are working, as inclement weather can hinder the phones’ ability to function.
According to Ritchie, due to the rise of modern technology and the expense of maintaining emergency phone systems, many universities have opted to do away with their school’s version of the blue phone, since more students seem to be utilizing their cell phones in emergency situations. Despite this, Ritchie says that DPS has no plans to get rid of the blue phones.
“We’re still going to try to maintain these emergency phones throughout campus, including residence halls. We’re not in any rush to get rid of them,” Ritchie said. He added that while the blue phone system is something that could feasibly and potentially be removed, he doesn’t think that “the timing is right to downsize or eliminate the emergency phone system. We [DPS] are concerned that there are still many people who do not routinely carry cell phones.”
Sophomore James Affenito even feels that “they could use a couple more [blue phones] on campus to increase the sense of security” because not enough are in vision on every location on campus.
Ritchie added that the cost of maintaining the emergency phone system on campus does not result in any substantial increases to students’ tuition.
“I don’t know if we can put a percentage of tuition into the maintenance for the emergency phone system. If we did, it would be extremely minimal,” Ritchie said.
However, in reflecting on their initial reason to implement the emergency phone system, Ritchie explained the inherent value in the safety feature, saying, “You can’t put a price tag on safety.”