Blue lights out: Emergency phones across campus on the way out

There are 273 blue light towers scattered across campus, and 56 more at the regional campuses, according to the UITS manager in charge of blue phones Michael Williams. (William Chan/Daily Campus)

The ‘out of service’ signs occasionally seen on blue phones around campus are not an indication of a wider system malfunction; however, the notion of eventually discontinuing the program is not far off, according to University of Connecticut Deputy Chief of Police Hans Rhynhart.

The Division of Public Safety at UConn—the Police Department, Fire Department, Office of Emergency Management and Fire Marshal and Building Inspector’s Office—is currently researching a mobile safety app that may eventually replace campus blue phones, said Rhynhart.

Student Affairs and the University Information Technology Services are also working on this project, which could be released next semester.

Blue phones have been a part of the UConn landscape since the mid-90s. Most of them were installed as part of UConn 2000—a 10-year, $1 billion program to improve the university implemented in 1995.

Most college campuses across the United States employ the blue phones as a preeminent security feature, and students notoriously become familiar with the system during campus tours and freshman orientation.

When someone feels unsafe on a college campus, he or she can push the ‘call’ button on the blue tower, and campus police respond through a speaker and arrive at the location.

Today, there are 273 towers scattered across campus, and 56 more at the regional campuses, according to the UITS manager in charge of blue phones Michael Williams.

UITS maintains the blue phones and keeps regular inspections. Neither UITS nor the UConn police department records the number of times blue phones are used each semester.

In response to broken blue phones sometimes seen on campus, UITS and the university say it is normal for occasional repairs.

“It’s a natural element. Any system like that, there is going to be some out,” said Williams.

“We physically test each unit regularly along with other emergency procedures,” University Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz said, “On a nightly basis, we also perform remote procedures.”

Despite normal and routine malfunctions to this technology, many universities are introducing phone apps as a modern approach to campus security, including University of Florida’s Gatorsafe app. Others are contracting with already established apps, such as Rave Guardian, which works with Brown University and University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Earlier this year, University of Colorado Boulder entirely removed the remaining blue phones on its campus after introducing a contracted security app called LifeLine Response.

While UConn’s own app is still under development, the university’s Alert system, which texts and emails participants, is one answer to evolving technology. Yet, the Alert system only works in one direction. To report an emergency, concerned students or faculty still need to call 911.

UConn students seem to barely notice the presence of blue phones on campus and approve of the possibility of a two-way campus security app.

“I feel like if I was in a real emergency I would just dial 911, so the app would be better if I could just have that,” eighth-semester psychology major Katie Vodola said, “I like the idea that you can text it.” 

Alex Loukellis, a sixth-semester finance major, added that he feels the blue phones are outdated: “I think it’s about time we updated the system a bit.” 


Annie Pancak is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at annie.pancak@uconn.edu. She tweets at @APancak.