Blue Lights at HWS: A Complicated Necessity

By The Herald News Team

Referred to by Marty Corbett, director of Campus Safety at HWS, as “rarely used,” the blue lights and call boxes on the Hobart and William Smith campus exist as a safety measure to protect members of the HWS community in the event of an attack. Both the lights and call boxes contain emergency buttons that can be pressed to directly contact the campus safety dispatcher. The Herald spoke to Corbett to get more logistical information regarding blue lights on campus.

On our 321-acre campus, there are 23 blue lights and 15 emergency call boxes located in or around buildings. The blue lights are scattered throughout the campus and are usually lit up and clearly blue to remain easily identifiable to passersby. The call boxes are fixtures on the exterior of buildings that, while lacking actual lights, are colored a bright yellow to make them more noticeable.

The use of the blue light system on campus is explained to incoming students during their first-year orientation programming as a part of the Campus Safety presentation. “There are three different locations of first-years during orientation weekend at which myself, Chris Beattie, and a third officer all meet with students to explain the blue light functionality to the new students,” said Corbett.

While these emergency systems provide a direct line of contact with the campus safety office and dispatcher on campus, they are physically maintained by the Information Technologies employees on campus. Any students who are aware of a malfunctioning system should report it directly to the campus safety office on campus.

“Every blue light gets tested every day by an officer,” according to Corbett. Each time a blue light is tested, the officer must actually place a call using the system and speak to the dispatcher on call to ensure its functionality. Ensuring that the systems are working properly is prioritized due to the protection these systems can provide students who are in need of assistance. Concerns about them malfunctioning continue as IT has received 22 work orders regarding blue lights malfunctioning since the beginning of 2018.

Acknowledging the shortcomings of our current blue light system, Corbett has stated that their maintenance remains a priority as his office works alongside IT to rectify problems and make improvements. “I’m working with IT now,” says Corbett. “We’re working on evaluation and replacement.”

One issue with the current configuration of blue lights on campus is the absence of any emergency response system near the dock and boathouse area. With this in mind, Corbett and Campus Safety are working to install a blue light next to the boathouse. Installing a blue light down by the docks has proved to be a difficult process for Campus Safety, as the boathouse is solar powered, which is expensive and insufficient in supplying power to a blue light. This should render electricity as the most viable option, except that permission needs to be granted from the railroad company to run cables underneath the tracks to the anticipated location. At the William Smith Congress and Hobart Student Government joint meeting, Corbett guaranteed to have “something at the boathouse by the end of this year,” unless the railroad doesn’t approve their request.

Outside of the consideration of the boathouse installation, the locations at which the blue lights are installed on campus is dependent upon the locations of the other, preexisting blue lights. “Generally, if you’re standing at one, you can see another,” says Corbett. The locations of all of the blue lights and call boxes on campus are included on a map pictured above and available on the “Blue Light Emergency Phone” section of the Campus Safety page of the HWS website.

The Campus Safety office welcomes the input of students who have suggestions about additional locations at which blue lights may be necessary. Corbett agrees that blue lights are ultimately a student-driven safety precaution, and that our advocacy and opinions are essential in taking the next steps in the revamping of our blue light system.

Despite the influx of works orders received by IT related to malfunctioning blue lights and callboxes, the maintenance and improvement of this system remains a priority for the Campus Safety office. According to Corbett, “the students’ needs are the first priority to us.”

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