The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Report suggests updates to dated campus security systems

5 min read
A bright emergency blue light shines in front of the University Center at night time

An emergency blue light in front of the University Center. | Russell Carver, The Weekly Ringer


Life Editor

Although not expected to be released by the school, the University recently conducted an assessment of campus security and produced a report called “UMW Blue Light Study,” acknowledging that the system has aged and urging the school to do a massive renovation and upgrade of the system. The assessment was intended to be used to advise the university on campus security measures.

There are a total of 217 telephone lines on UMW’s campus—200 located on the Fredericksburg campus, 12 at the Stafford campus and five at Dahlgren—that cost about $25,000 to maintain annually. The report recommends moving and/or removing blue lights from areas that are over-saturated and installing the systems in other, more vulnerable parts of campus while also accommodating for the budget. The committee behind the report identified these areas, and the report notes that “care was taken to craft a plan of blue light locations that would maximize access, with fewer blue light locations,” which aims to save $6,888 annually.

The report acknowledges that the system is aging since the emergency phone system is “well over two decades old,” though in the introduction section of the draft, the committee was unable to determine when the blue light phone system was first installed on campus, even after extensive research. Upgrades are necessary, it says, to continue to ensure and promote security on campus. 

With the blue light system currently installed on campus, there were a total of 844 entries—nine calls pertaining to an emergency or urgent situation, 31 requests for access into buildings after hours, 481 calls were false calls that were verifiable from camera view and contact with the caller—from May 1, 2015 to May 1, 2019. The rest involved testing, malfunctions or situations in which there was no emergency present.

Still, the report came to the consensus that “the blue light phone system, while not frequently used as intended for emergencies, is a valuable part of the safety apparatus of the university.” The reason behind this conclusion was that the presence of the phones made those on campus feel safer, regardless of whether they were being used or not. 

The report included perspectives from UMW’s Department of Police and Public Safety, faculty and students. UMW Police Chief Michael Hall said that the new upgrades, such as boring and trenching, as well as purchasing the poles for the blue lights and the security systems mounted on top, will take some time and may cause potential delays to the final installation date.

“Largely what I wanted out of this report was a collaborative effort from faculty, staff and students with the police leading it,” said University President Troy Paino. “The report itself is an assessment on where we are with the blue lights as we are now in a very different world than when we originally installed it. There was some concern about their functionality and their working condition and the question was asked, ‘Do we invest?’”

He added that the school will be moving forward with the repairs and modernization plans that were suggested. The cost will likely be upwards of $400,000, he said, and the project will be funded through a one-time investment from the university’s reserves. 

The committee only met for one evening to examine the blue lights in a pre-plotted route and did not have a follow-up meeting afterwards.

According to a 2021 report in Campus Safety Magazine, a publication aimed toward those in charge of safety at schools, most colleges in the United States have blue light systems; even if they’re not used, many people still prefer to have them, believing they might act as a deterrent against crime.

Per the U.S. Department of Justice’s Survey of Campus Law Enforcement, which collected data from 1995, 2004-2005 and 2011-2012, 100% of private schools that instruct over 15,000 students have a blue light phone system as well as 92% of all university campuses.

In addition to updates on blue lights, Hall acknowledged that newer technology is required to maximize student safety. For instance, one modernized addition to the blue light system is a camera mounted on the top of the pole that allows UMW Police and Public Safety access to see the location in case of an emergency.

The report also says there have been technological advances in regard to student safety, such as apps available on any phone. 

Hall urged students to download the Rave Guardian app, which is available on both Android and iPhone. The app lets users contact campus police and emergency services at any point, and it also provides features for its users that involve location-based tracking. For example, if someone walking across campus feels unsafe, they are able to begin a safety timer that allows other contacts to view their location for a given amount of time. The app can also disseminate important information through announcements, as well as giving the user the option to submit tips regarding domestic violence, bullying, disturbance, drugs and other situations of note.

“I encourage students very strongly to have it installed on their phone, as it’s essentially a blue light in their hand,” Hall said. “One button and you can have friends track you on it as well as a venue for important messages. If you’re in a situation where you cannot talk, you can text the dispatch center and it is a very valuable tool.”

However, while Hall has urged students to use the application for almost a decade, few have it on their phones, and many have never heard of it.

“I think the app itself would have good implications at party situations on a late night on the weekend,” said sophomore computer science major Jack Collier. “I would encourage them to continue developing a wider audience so that people in need will be able to access that feature on the app. Personally, I haven’t heard of the app until today and relatively speaking, it sounds like a good idea for students to have.” 

Faith Hattersley, a sophomore psychology major, agreed with Hall and Collier that the app could be useful based on the description, even though she didn’t have the app herself.

“Creating better accessibility to campus security through something online that’s easily connected to my phone is a great idea,” said Hattersley. “If the school would want to implement that in their security plan, they should not only advertise it but make sure campus security detail is comfortable quickly navigating the app and all its capabilities.”

Due to editor error, a previous version of this article misattributed the photo to Abbey Magnet. It was taken by Russell Carver. This has been corrected.