Blue-light call boxes survive on some campuses

Students use the boxes for emergency purposes and even courtesy calls
By: | September 6, 2019
Some administrators are replacing blue-light call boxes with mobile security apps and other technologies. Still, other higher ed leaders are sticking with the emergency phones because they provide a highly visible sense of comfort for students on campus. (Photo: Cindy Hollingsworth)Some administrators are replacing blue-light call boxes with mobile security apps and other technologies. Still, other higher ed leaders are sticking with the emergency phones because they provide a highly visible sense of comfort for students on campus. (Photo: Cindy Hollingsworth)

A headline on an August post from The Daily Tar Heel asks: “Have campus blue light call boxes outlived their usefulness?”

Well, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill still maintains about 300 of the boxes that connect users directly to police, and workers there occasionally install new ones even though UNC and many other campuses now provide mobile apps that can be used to summon help during an emergency, the student newspaper reports.

The Daily Tar Heel also notes that the University of Georgia removed all of its call boxes after eight years when police didn’t receive a single call from the devices.

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, administrators have no plans to remove their call boxes though some say they are outdated. A police spokesman told the institution’s student newspaper, The Badger Herald, that the blue-light phones provide peace of mind. And some schools, such as Buffalo State College , State University of New York and Kean University in New Jersey, still promote the boxes as part of their overall safety strategies.

University Business reported last year that the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Brigham Young University in Utah and Contra Costa Community College District in California had decided to remove their call boxes. Still, some campuses are sticking with the old-school blue lights despite mobile apps and other advanced technologies.

One reason is that the blue-light boxes are pretty reliable, Rod Levette, assistant director of public safety at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York, told UB.

“The blue boxes are one of the most reliable forms of communication we have on campus right now,” Levette said. “All of these other technologies are networked, putting more and more pressure on our IT department to make sure the network is up and running. If the network goes down, devices [and apps] don’t work.”


Read more from UB: Secure surroundings on college campuses


The blue boxes at Kansas State University are now used for more than just emergencies, support services Lt. Bradli Millington told UB.

For example, a caller who said, “Hey, I’m lost. I’m trying to find Call Hall for ice cream,” got directions on how to get to the campus ice cream parlor, he says. “We use them as emergency phones and as courtesy phones.”