Public Safety reaction tested

Public Safety and several campus organizations tested the response times of AU Public Safety officials to activated student emergency mechanism during a one-and-a-half-week span in mid-September.

Officers responded to five blue light system tests and one red telephone test at varying locations and times during a one-and-a-half-week period, according to Student Government Chief of Staff Joe Pavel.

The involved campus organizations tested the mechanisms by pressing the button on the blue light system or taking the red telephone off the hook and then timing the response of Public Safety officials, according to Pavel.

Public Safety's response time to tests varied from as long as 7 minutes to as little as just under 1.5 minutes, according to data acquired by the SG.

A blue light test triggered Sept. 12 at the Nebraska Hall parking lot at 5:01 p.m. had the longest response time of 7 minutes for the first group of Public Safety officers to arrive at the scene, and it took 7 minutes and 45 seconds for the second group of Public Safety responders to arrive, according to data acquired by the SG.

While a blue light test activated Sept. 18 at the northeast corner of the Nebraska parking lot at 10:27 p.m. had the shortest Public Safety response time of 1:29:35, the second group of Public Safety officials to arrive at the scene came in at 2:16:35, according to the data.

Officials from the SG, Women's Initiative and the Residence Hall Association met with Public Safety and organized the tests, Pavel said.

The tests involved old and newly installed blue lights. The blue lights are located around campus for students to press if they are experiencing an emergency or dangerous situation.

The organizations intended the tests to show what students can expect and to gauge Public Safety officers' response times, Pavel said.

Public Safety Chief Michael McNair said his department always wants to test its emergency readiness.

"We want to make sure that the officers understand their roles in responding to these emergencies, and we want to provide the students with a level of confidence that the security officers will respond to the emergency," he said.

In order to accurately record the response times of officers, the department's command staff, who answer the calls when blue lights are activated, were the only officials who knew in advance when each test was going to occur, according to Lt. Rima Sifri, Public Safety crime prevention coordinator. In each case, the dispatcher learned the soon-to-be-activated alert was a drill only 10 minutes before it occurred, she said.

Pavel called Sifri before each test to make sure no real emergencies were occurring on campus.

When someone activates a blue light, the phone on the device will call into the dispatch center, instantly revealing the light's exact location, Sifri said. The dispatcher will then put the call in to Public Safety, indicating where they are needed and information about the scene as they receive it.

The dispatcher talks to the person who activated the alarm to find out the nature of the emergency and remains on the line until officers arrive at the scene, she said.

In the test situations, the dispatchers "played dumb" as to any prior knowledge they might have had about the scene of the emergency so they would not give away that it was a test, Pavel said.

At least two officers respond to each blue light call. No matter their assigned part of campus, all officers can respond to any call that occurs in any location throughout campus, Sifri said.

"They are all so willing to help, it is actually pretty cool," she said.

On average, about one blue light is activated each month because of an actual emergency, McNair said.

"The number of times it occurs is not relevant," he said. "When you need them, there is no replacement for them."

Women's Initiative supervised a similar series of tests several years ago. However, since the past series of tests, the university installed blue lights at several new locations, Pavel said.

It was important for the university to install new blue lights despite perceptions that the campus is relatively safe, said Frankie Solomon, a sophomore in the School of Communication.

"It is really important to see that they are serving their purpose and to know their [Public Safety officers'] response time," she said.

The testing was a step in the right direction, said Deandra Morse, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. However, she was not impressed with the outcome of the tests.

"I hope that in the future, we will see progress made in the response times," she said.

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