With the array of campus emergencies that have occurred at UNC Charlotte throughout the semester, the 49er police department has been evaluating the effectiveness and usefulness of the university’s security protocol.
One area of improvement the department has been looking into is campus Blue Lights, and what measures may be most cost effective and practical for today’s tech-savvy students.
There are over 300 Blue Lights across UNC Charlotte’s campus that serve as a way for students to report a crime or call for help. The devices are called “Blue Lights” because of the blue light at the top of each station.
Once a student approaches the device, they simply press the large red button labeled “PRESS FOR HELP” which then calls a dispatcher and signals the location of the student.
The devices have been strategically placed so that if the student is in a dangerous situation where they are on the run, the student can simply run to the next Blue Light and press the same red button. This way, the dispatcher can relay to police officers the direction to which the victim is headed.
Although these devices seem to be a great form of safety protocol, the negatives seem to outway the positives. Each Blue Light costs the university $7,000 to purchase and install. Because there are 300 Blue Lights across campus, that makes a grand total of $2,100,000 for these seemingly great devices.
In addition to the purchasing and installation fees for each device, all 300 of them sit outside year-round, which has lead to a great amount of additional maintenance costs.
“The trouble with Blue Light phones is they sit in the weather; the rain, the warm, the cold … all that has an effect on wiring, so that is one of the setbacks,” said UNC Charlotte Chief of Police Jeffrey Baker.
Baker also noted that there are alternate Blue Light models which don’t require any maintenance, but cost around $10,000 each as opposed to the current ones at the university which cost $5,000 to $7,000.
“At some point you know, you’ve gotta say to yourself, ‘This stuff is expensive, and who pays for it?’” said Baker.
As the department has been searching for a way to effectively reduce the hefty costs that come along with Blue Lights, they have discovered the LiveSafe app.
“Not that we’re gonna do away with [Blue Lights], but the other alternative is to always, which is something I believe in, constantly look at technology. And that’s what takes us to LiveSafe,” said Baker.
Similar to the Blue Light systems, LiveSafe allows students to connect directly to a dispatcher and be located instantly. Rather than having students that are running from danger travel from one Blue Light to the next, with LiveSafe the student would simply keep their mobile phone with them and the GPS would continue tracking their location.
In addition to offering some of the same services as Blue Lights, LiveSafe also has a text messaging option. This allows users who may be in a situation where they aren’t able to speak or make any noise to silently text a description of the imminent danger.
In turn, the dispatcher is able to communicate back to the student through the LiveSafe app.
In addition to this feature, LiveSafe allows students to take and send pictures of the incident to the dispatcher, which could not only serve as evidence but also could help police who may not otherwise have a valid description of a suspect.
“It just gives a lot of power to a student to report an incident,” said Baker.
The only issue with the possibility of the implementation of this new type of security protocol would be its price. Although it is far lower than the price of Blue Lights, coming in at merely three dollars per download, the police department has not yet determined where the costs would come from or how they might be covered.
“It’s super advanced, and it provides so much more than a Blue Light phone. To me, $3 if I were a student, well I wouldn’t even blink. I would say, ‘Here’s $3.’ … But some students would complain about it,” said Baker
“Three dollars to $7,000 just isn’t even comparable. You know what I mean? It’s just so much less for such a high degree of safety for a student,” said Baker.
If he could have his way, Baker would love to see the new system used university-wide in the Fall 2014 semester. Although the plan has not yet been submitted to the cabinet, there is still a possibility that the app could be used next fall, if not soon after.
In a recent presentation from the LiveSafe producers, Baker shared that he learned about the story of LifeSafe’s Chief Evangelist Kristina Anderson. Anderson was a victim in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting.
A student at the time, Anderson survived being shot three times and now uses her experience to help contribute what she thinks is necessary for the app.
“She’s got direct knowledge of what you think a phone should be able to do in these types of situations. She’s part of the team that actually developed it, and to me that’s real moving because nobody else has done anything like that,” said Baker.
“Really, what we’re doing is we’re responding to safety. I want to be able to provide the absolute best safety measures for our students,” said Baker.