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Ohio University proposes phasing out blue light emergency phones

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Ohio University blue light. Photo by William Meyer.

Ohio University announced a proposal at a Student Senate meeting Wednesday night to phase out existing ‘blue-light’ emergency phones across campus because of a lack of usage by students.

Steve Wood, the chief facilities officer in Facilities Management and Safety, noted that the blue-light phones cost Ohio U about $45,000 a year in maintenance but appear to be of little use to students in potential danger. Wood cited an article published by The Post in 2018 that reported practically all emergency calls from blue lights were used for pranking purposes. 

An Ohio University Police Department officer present at the meeting said he had never been notified of a serious emergency reported through the blue-light system.

The phones, referred to as ‘blue-lights’ due to the blue light on top, were created after the 1990 Clery Act mandated higher standards of crime prevention on American college campuses. Students are able to call emergency services by pressing a button on the phones.

The university installed 71 blue-light phones across campus over the last 30 years, many of which are located outside residence halls.

“The idea was, when we were installing them, that if folks were running from an attacker, they’d run toward the blue light,” Wood said.

The majority of these phones were installed in the 1990s or early 2000s, before most people –– let alone students –– had a cell phone, and have required considerable maintenance and upkeep since. Wood referred to a 2018 Gallup survey and said 99% of Americans ages 19 to 24 years old own cell phones.

Wood argued the phones were no longer necessary due to the proliferation of cell phones. All students facing an emergency have the opportunity to use either their phone or the Bobcat Safety App –– a mobile application created by Ohio U to ensure campus safety –– and its 911 function in case of an emergency, he said.

“In some cases, there were even students who called 911 on their cells while standing next to a blue light,” Wood said.

Ohio U does not intend to tear down existing blue-light phones, according to Wood. The university plans to remove the phones as they fall into disrepair. Phones attached to dormitories will transition into ‘courtesy phones,’ phones free of use, available to all students, Wood said.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this report incorrectly spelled Wood’s name on subsequent references and misstated the blue-light phone’s yearly maintenance cost. The annual cost is $45,000, not $4,600. A previous version also incorrectly stated the proposal to phase out blue-light phones was a university-approved plan, which it is not. It’s merely a proposal.

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