The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Blue Light Phones Fail Safety Tests

4 min read


The University of Mary Washington blue light safety system failed last week during a test call when police were not able to identify the location of the phone and the caller.

Susan Knick, assistant vice president for Public Safety and Community Services, made the call during a safety tour of the campus last Wednesday, Oct. 29, with several other top administrators and student leaders.

Knick, who supervises campus police, told them to give up after they tried for about a minute to determine her location.

“That’s too slow,” Knick said.  Executive Vice President Richard Hurley immediately agreed.

Knick told the dispatcher on the line that she would bring the issue up with them at a later meeting.

Student leaders said they were very concerned about the failure, in the wake of two recent assaults on opposite ends of campus: one an attempted abduction at the Battleground, the other a sexual assault in the parking deck.

“The general consensus [is] that the blue lights should be able to find out immediately where a student caller is… In an instant, anything can happen,” said Ashley Davis, president of Student Senate.

Knick later said the problem happened due to human error.

“The dispatcher on duty was unable to find the sheet which corresponds to the number location,” Knick said in an e-mail. “By the time I got back to the Police Department, the dispatcher had three sets of the lists out.”

“For this specific case in point, all the supervisors involved were made aware of the situation, and an immediate review of the light location roster was made with each dispatcher,” she said.

Knick was unable to say if this problem had happened before.

She said that problems related to human error will be eliminated once a new computerized blue light system is set up.

“We have been working for some time on an automated system, which would link the emergency phone and light to a computerized location,” she said.

Knick said that work on the new system is ongoing, and that she does not know when it will be finished or the cost.

However, technical difficulties are still a problem with the current blue light system.

According to David Sing, emergency communication and parking management supervisor, the blue lights are checked once a month and the results are logged.

“We check if each light is working, and whether the phone call connection is going through,” Sing said. “Usually the only problem we find is that a bulb has burned out.”

However, since blue lights are checked monthly, there is a potential 30-day gap where a blue light may not be working.

For example, one blue light unit in the UMW Apartments parking lot was not functioning for the entire month of September until police tested it on Oct. 1 during their monthly check.

According to the police report, the unit had no dial tone when it was checked on Sept. 1, and had become completely nonfunctional by early October. Police found four other blue light units that had failed during the same month.

“If any [blue lights] are found non-operational, work orders are generated for immediate correction,” said Knick.

Students have had mixed experiences with the blue light system.

Senior Hannah Hammock said that her experience with the system was a positive one.

“I left my keys in Jepson and needed the police to let me back in,” Hammock said. “Someone picked up on the fifth ring, and the police were there in five or sixminutes.”

When a Bullet reporter tested the blue light system at midnight Tuesday, Nov. 4, the system worked properly.  Police picked up on the second ring, and identified the reporter’s location, the UMW parking deck, within 41 seconds.

Senior Fenwick Gilroy, student head of the Public Safety and Student Escort Services, said that Safety Services has been trying to shorten police response time since the Safety Walk last week.

“I will be working with the dispatchers to cut down the time it takes to identify the location of the student,” said Gilroy.

He said that Student Escort Services response time will also be shortened when they receive two new golf cars for use transporting students.

“When we get the golf carts, which, if they aren’t here already, will be here soon, we’ll be able to easily cut [our five minute response] time in half,” he said.

Vice President Rick Hurley said that the administration began working on the problems found during the Safety Walk soon after the event.

“We take the information gained from the walk, discuss the identified needs, make decisions about which items we think need to be addressed, and assign them to the appropriate department to implement,” Hurley said.

He also said that the money for Safety Walk repairs comes from the school’s contingency fund.

Aside from the blue light failure, the Safety Walk also found 24 other safety violations on campus including a burnt out lamp next to Seacobeck and a cracked sidewalk behind Mercer, according to the Student Senate.

Knick said that repairs are already being made.