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Meant to Keep Students Safe, Effectiveness of Blue Lights Unclear

Rachael Lombardo | The PhoenixCunningham said Campus Safety responds "as quickly and safely as they can" to calls made from emergency blue lights.

More than 150 emergency blue light phones dot Loyola’s Lake Shore and Water Tower campuses and are often highlighted in prospective student tours to show Loyola helps keep students safe. 

However, Campus Safety keeps little data on whether they actually increase student safety.

The blue light phones are connected directly to Campus Safety’s 24-hour dispatch center, Admin Commander Tim Cunningham said. Whether the button is pressed for an emergency situation or not, Campus Safety “always comes running,” he said. 

But according to Cunningham, the “vast majority” of blue light calls are non-emergency. 

“[The blue lights] are used every single day by lost UberEats drivers,” Cunningham said. “Almost every single time those phones are used, they are used by someone who is lost and trying to find their way around campus.” 

Cunningham confirmed Campus Safety feels the lights improve the safety of students because they are a resource for students to “quickly and easily” summon help.  

Despite this, Cunningham couldn’t provide data when asked about how many blue light calls they respond to, or what percentage of them are actually emergencies because dispatch doesn’t keep track of the source of each call. 

Cunningham couldn’t give an average response time for calls, but Campus Safety responds “as quickly and safely as they can,” he said. 

He also couldn’t answer when they were first installed and why Loyola chose to implement them, or how many there were on campus. Campus Safety is only responsible for picking up the phone when it rings, he said. 

Loyola isn’t able to put the emergency posts off university property, Cunningham said, despite most violent crimes such as assault, armed robbery and shootings happening off-campus. 

In an email to The Phoenix, David Wieczorec, the network manager for Loyola’s Information Technology (IT) Department — which handles Loyola’s technology support — said the installation and connectivity for each post can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000.

Upkeep of the phones is split between the IT Department and Facilities — which manages building maintenance on campus — according to Richard Jacques, assistant director of Facilities. Facilities ensures the blue LED lights work, while IT makes sure the phone is connected, Jacques said. 

Loyola mathematics major Amanda Hensmann, a 21-year-old mathematics major, said her friend used the blue lights when she felt nervous about walking alone at night when there was a man following her. She said she was happy with the response from Campus Safety and it helped her feel safe. 

Nicholas Synovic, a second-year computer science major, said he once saw them used when someone got a head injury playing soccer on the west quad. 

“I hope to never use one, but it’s good to know we always have that option,” the 19-year-old said. 

Campus Safety also holds routine tests several times a semester to make sure the phones are working properly, Cunningham said. An automatic system sends a ping to each phone to make sure they are online, but Campus Safety performs manual checks regularly as well, according to Cunningham. 

“We touch every single phone and make sure we can hear the dispatch and they can hear us,” Cunningham said.  

They’ve also tried to clean the lights and clear spiderwebs in the past, but Cunningham said they reappear overnight and Campus Safety can’t keep up. 

About 10 to 15 of the phones are also reverse broadcast systems, so they can be used for public service announcements in the case of an emergency, such as a tornado, Cunningham said.

If there are any places the broadcast can’t be heard, Campus Safety decides if another light needs to be added he said. Campus Safety also reevaluates if more posts are necessary any time Loyola’s campus expands, Cunningham said. 

Loyola biology senior Arlisse Lim said the lights used to make her feel safe, but now that she’s adjusted to being on campus they don’t impact her anymore. 

“I thought about [them] as a freshman but now that I’m so used to everything I don’t [notice] them,” the 22-year-old said. “I’ve never felt the need to use them, especially on campus.”

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