Staff Editorial: The lights are out. Is anybody home?
Blue light outages reveal larger issue regarding administration transparency
Nearly every college campus in the United States uses blue light tower phone systems for campus safety. At American University, all a student needs to do is push the red button at a tower, and they will immediately be connected with the AU Police Department while an officer proceeds to their location. In the meantime, the large LED light at the top of the tower will flash.
Walking through campus, especially at night, it can be comforting to see the familiar blue glow letting you know safety isn’t too far away. A recent Eagle investigation, however, revealed several malfunctioning towers, putting our sense of security at risk.
Of the eight malfunctioning towers the investigation found, only one had signage indicating it was out of service. Of the seven towers without signage, three have inoperable phones. It was not until The Eagle contacted the University that two of those three towers finally received signage.
This lack of transparency is unacceptable. Time is crucial during an emergency. To seek out a blue light tower’s assistance, only to find that the phone is inoperable, could have drastic consequences for a student in crisis. It should not take an Eagle investigation to prompt action from the University. Students should be notified immediately when crucial safety methods stop working.
Besides the phone systems, the light the towers provide is a key component of the deterrence they create. The noticeable blue light indicates to anyone nearby that someone is watching and ready to respond. Without the light, this deterrence is eliminated. More lights on campus, regardless of being attached to a blue light tower, would greatly improve a feeling of safety, especially at nighttime.
It is also troubling that AU does not report these malfunctions in its Annual Safety Report. The Clery Act requires that “a summary of emergency response systems and procedures” be included, but the University has not disclosed the malfunctions. Regardless, this information is important and deserves to be reported.
With these issues in mind, the University must examine safety on campus as a whole. A few times throughout the semester, an email is sent to students containing all the safety resources on campus. It lists emergency phone numbers, AU Alerts, the Rave Guardian App, Blue Light Emergency Telephones, two X (Twitter) accounts and Shuttle Buses as safety resources on campus. Diving deeper into these resources, there are a few problems.
The Rave Guardian App contains a panic button, anonymous tip reporting and a timer, which preset “Guardians” can use to check the status of your location. If you have not made it to your destination within a designated time frame, AUPD will be alerted to your location.
The majority of students in The Eagle’s Editorial Board noted that while they have knowledge of this app, they do not have it downloaded on their phones. Several students did not have the app downloaded because they were unaware of its capabilities. This may reveal a need for AU to find better ways to communicate safety information to students, and absolutely indicates how important blue lights are.
The Twitter accounts AU lists as safety resources are @AmericanUpolice and @AUAlerts. Before the Oct. 7 phone system outage, neither account had been updated since Nov. 18, 2022. Clearly, these accounts are not updated frequently enough to be categorized as a safety resource.
Student safety needs many improvements. For starters, the blue light towers must be inspected more often. When an outage is found, students should be notified immediately, and the tower should have visible signage indicating it is not working. Resources offered to students need to be updated and working to provide any sort of functionality. The University must proactively, not reactively, communicate with students. We cannot trust an administration that does not notify us of something as important as safety.
This article was written by Alexis Bernstein and edited by Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis and Charlie Mennuti.