Red Light the Blue Light

One cannot deny the good intent behind MSU’s blue light emergency phone system. Rape and sexual assault, among other incidences, are highly prevalent on college campuses and measures should exist to deter their occurrences. The blue light system was established on MSU’s campus in 2009 as one of those safety measures. However, the system may be as ineffective as it is obsolete.

First, a look at what the blue light system is and does: the campus-wide system consists of 10 emergency phones, seven of which are solar-powered, placed in sporadic locations around campus grounds. The phones are equipped with two buttons: one labeled “emergency,” which contacts 911 emergency services and lights a blue strobe light, and one labeled “information,” which contacts the university police department’s non-emergency services for general information. Here, the system seems to be an effective resource for crime deterrence, but what is the blue light system doing that cellphones are not?

The purpose of the system, according to MSU, is “to enhance the safety and security of the community,” something personal safety apps can provide in the palm of their user’s hand. The major difference is that the blue light system costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to establish and tens of thousands to maintain annually, whereas personal safety apps and dialing emergency services (an ability all cellphones are required by law to have regardless of the phone’s active or inactive status) ranges from being free of cost to a few dollars per month in charges.

Beyond just the difference in price, though, is the difference in use. Over half of all 911 calls are made by cellphone. The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG) has 78 emergency phones in the form of blue light towers, with an additional 52 emergency phones present in other forms. Of the nearly 11,000 calls for service UNCG’s police department received in 2013, only 90 came from the blue light system. In fact, some universities claim the majority of blue light phone system calls are either pranks or activated mistakenly, which has motivated several universities to downsize or, in New Mexico State University’s case, eliminate the program altogether.

Outside of dialing 911, the other main function of MSU’s blue light towers is to contact non-emergency services for campus information. Most campus information can be obtained through the Ask-Us service in the SUB or via MSU’s website. It seems a waste of resources, then, to even have an “information” button. Virtually any service sought can be found online, meaning that in today’s high-tech society, the blue light system has been rendered obsolete.