Stillwater OK March 6 2017 Emergency phones dotting the Oklahoma State University campus are analog phone lines, making them comparable to dinosaurs in this digital age.
OSU police Lt. Mark Shearer said the emergency phones’ installation, which many students call “blue lights,” began in the 1960s. He said as campus grew, more emergency phones were installed, bringing the total today to 104.
He said emergency phones cost about $4,000 each, not including installation, maintenance or phone line costs.
Emergency phones were originally installed on campus so students, who did not have cell phones, could contact police in an emergency situation and receive a timely response.
Now that having a cell phone is the norm, some argue the emergency phones have lost their purpose.
Lee Bird, OSU vice president for student affairs, said most people on campus have a personal cell phone, so they basically have an emergency phone with them at all times.
Bird said for the 16 years she has been at OSU, the emergency phones have made people feel safer but haven’t been used much.
“I think it’s … technology that, for our particular campus, has probably outlived its usefulness,” Bird said.
As campus growth has slowed at its present boundaries, so has the installation of emergency phones. Shearer said the only emergency phones being installed this year are in the new Fourth Avenue Parking Garage.
Shearer said OSU will continue to install emergency phones because they serve as a last resort in an emergency situation.
“You have to have a number of different options available to people in order to be able to give them a good, solid safety net,” Shearer said. “(If you) start removing some of these options that these individuals have, in essence you’re … cutting a hole in that net. And the more options you remove, the bigger the hole in that net becomes until finally, somebody falls through that net.”
Shearer said the emergency phones are “old-school” but they can be helpful in some cases.
Although most people have mobile devices, their cell phones could be out of battery, locked in a car, lost or broken, and they might struggle to find a signal in steel and concrete buildings, Shearer said.
In 2016, 134 calls were made from emergency phones, according to OSUPD data. Shearer said only a handful of calls are for “real emergencies.”
Most calls made from emergency phones tend to be students “horsing around” or kids who come to campus for events, he said.
“(Kids) see that light up there and they see that huge, round red button, and they just can’t resist pushing that button,” Shearer said.
Although the juveniles are forgiven, Shearer said adults who press the button and run off could be charged with misuse of a 911 system, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $500.
Along with being “outdated,” he said some complain the emergency phones are an eyesore.
Steve Dobbs, OSU grounds and landscape manager, oversees campus beautification. He said his crew’s job is to make sure the campus looks perfect when potential students come to visit.
“Students can make up their minds … within the first 15 minutes they step foot on campus based on what the campus looks like,” Dobbs said. “(A beautiful campus) relays a message that we take care of our campus and our grounds and facilities, and therefore it implies that we’re going to take care of our people.”
Dobbs said he doesn’t dislike the emergency phones and understands they are intended to be noticeable in the event of an emergency. He said he wants the campus to look its best but safety is a priority.
Katie Bell, a nutrition sophomore from Colorado, said when she visited OSU for the first time, she didn’t even notice the emergency phones.
“It’s just a safety precaution, something that every campus feels the need to have,” Bell said. “I think they’re still useful because anything can happen. If I absolutely need it, … that’s my option.”
Shearer said many students have similar opinions as Bell about the emergency phones: It makes them feel a little safer, regardless of having their cell phones.
“Even though they’re outdated by technology, they’re still serving a purpose,” he said. “Are they utilized very much? No. But if it’s only used one time, and it saves a life, is it worth it? I think, for right now, they’re serving a purpose.”