Blue lights to receive upgrade

The University is preparing to replace more than half of the emergency blue light phones on campus to upgrade the 20-year-old technology to a more advanced system.

Nineteen of the 39 lights scattered across the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses – designed to allow users to signal UPD during emergencies – were originally installed in 1991, University Police Chief Kevin Hay said. The new lights will likely have public address speakers and cameras, in addition to the current voice capability.

UPD’s estimated response time of two to three minutes from the moment a light is activated to an officer’s arrival on scene will remain, Hay said, but the new camera feature will give dispatchers a visual of the scene, offering “real-time intelligence.”

Hay said officers were stationed across the Foggy Bottom Campus June 7 to test the different options for emergency phones and determine if speaker announcements were clear.

Speakers could be used to broadcast messages in the event of on-campus emergencies, including fires, criminal activity, explosions or even extreme weather conditions like tornadoes.

“These announcements will be in addition to the blast e-mails we currently distribute,” Hay said. “We currently have mobile speaker systems, but the goal is to have a permanent system that is readily available 24/7.”

The University expects to review at least three different bids from companies for the new technology, Hay said, and does not have a time frame on when it will pick a vendor and make a final purchase.

Hay declined to provide GW’s price range for the new lights, saying once the University receives bid information, it will have a better understanding of the cost.

University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said last fall that the current blue light phones cost about $3,000 each.

The Hatchet conducted an analysis of the blue lights in September, reporting that students interviewed said they did not know how the lights worked and had never seen or heard of an individual activating them. The emergency phones are also typically used in situations unrelated to any type of crime, according to the report.

Hay added that the 19 lights that are being uprooted will have new emergency phones in their locations, but the University has not decided on a final number of new lights to purchase.

As of June 9, the blue lights have been activated 162 times in 2011, Hay said. Sherrard said in September that the lights were activated 386 times in 2010 and 484 times in 2009.

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