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Costly, obsolete emergency-phones should be scrapped

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | FEBRUARY 22, 2012 6:30 AM

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Blue emergency phones may appear to be an effective way to prevent and report crimes on college campuses, but other schools have found they prove to be costly, obsolete, and abused by the public.

Running a college campus is a costly affair, which is why we shouldn't risk wasting any precious resources without weighing the cost benefit both carefully and critically. "Code Blue" emergency phones on the University of Iowa campus may appear to be worth any expense for the comfort and safety of people, but their usefullness ought to be evaluated. Educational institutions across the country are beginning to realize how antiquated these systems have become and are beginning to phase them out.

The UI should analyze these numbers, learn from them, and possibly get rid of the costly devices, putting the money devoted toward more security and more efficient protocol.

At the University of Vermont (which is about half the size of the UI) these emergency phones cost $400,000 to install and require $75,000 to maintain annually.

These emergency phones are rarely used, and when they are used, they are abused more often than not. New Mexico State University made the logical decision to eliminate its emergency-phone system after years of misuse.

"Unfortunately, the blue-light phones do not contribute to safety"said Stephen Lopez, the deputy chief of the New Mexico State police. "We receive thousands of calls on the blue-light phones every year, and virtually all of them are either crank calls or someone who accidentally hit the activation button, which immediately calls 911. This is a considerable waste of time and resources."

Another school, the Contra Costa Community College District in California (with more than 60,000 students on its campuses daily) decided to rid its campus of the emergency phones because the police had never received a "verified, real emergency call." The rarity of the legitimate use of the emergency phones makes the substantial cost of them a waste.

On this campus, UI police officers are required to report to the scene — a waste of time, energy, and resources if the call turns out to be illegitimate.

There are arguments to be made for the retention of these emergency systems. Many schools purchase these emergency phones with the knowledge that prospective students and their parents will keep an eye out for them during campus tours. The knowledge that these emergency phones are on campus put these empty-nesters minds' at ease.

Under the assumption that more blue lights are indicative of better campus safety, these tuition-paying parents feel more comfortable sending their student to an institution with an ample number of blue emergency phones. Another justification for the purchasing of these phone systems is as a preventative measure for potential legal complaints that may hold the school liable in the case that an emergency happens in which a blue light could have changed the outcome.

While neither of these reasons involve the safety of college students, both arguments, like the systems themselves, fall out of relevancy by the day.

Use of blue emergency phones is so scarce perhaps because modern cell-phone use has rendered them virtually obsolete. Most emergency-phone systems were implemented in the '80s or '90s, when hardly anybody had mobile devices. Emergency phones are no longer useful on a college campus where nearly everybody carries a mobile device. With instant, mobile communication becoming easier by the day, there is no evidence that emergency phones will once again be relevant in the future.

The money being drained into the obsolete emergency phones should instead be channeled toward tighter security in the heart of campus, such as security personnel and more efficient protocol for timely responses.

Not every college campus is the same, but the ineffectiveness of these systems seem to be uniform no matter the campus, no matter the region. If officials here can't prove the effectiveness of the system, it should be removed from campus, and the money set aside for these phones should be spent on tighter security specified for our unique university.


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