Unique Communication on Campus
Communication solutions on campuses can fix a variety of student issues, not just emergency incidents
- By Michael Zuidema
- August 01, 2018
Emergency communication solutions like blue light phone
towers and call boxes have been commonly used tools at
universities and colleges for decades. Their visibility,
durability and reliability continue to give students, faculty,
staff and visitors an easy way to request assistance for a
wide range of situations, whether it’s reporting a suspicious individual
or simply seeking help for a malfunctioning parking gate.
One challenge these institutions face, however, is figuring out a way to
encourage the use of these devices to extract the highest return on
their investment while also providing safety and security to large campus
audiences. As a result, some locations may feel like blue light
phones are underutilized or unnecessary, especially if students feel like
they aren’t being encouraged to push the button and place a call. In
these types of situations, the campus population can feel like these
products need to be treated like fire alarms—only to be used in extreme
That is a good way to ensure no one benefits from their presence.
While blue light phones obviously can be a powerful resource for
emergency situations, more and more universities are taking advantage
of their placement and versatility to provide additional functions
to benefit the entire campus. Indiana State University, for example,
encourages students to use Help Points to request late-night escorts on
campus, while the University of Central Florida told its student newspaper
that most of the calls it fields are related to automobile issues,
like a driver forgetting where they parked or a dead car battery.
Additionally, the University of California, Berkeley, has created
posters in the past that encouraged the use of blue light phones, while
other schools are now retrofitting their units with additional security
tools—like public address speakers, surveillance cameras and more—
to further boost safety and security on campus.
START WITH A NETWORK OF SOLUTIONS
Meanwhile, the University of British Columbia added some easy but
unique customizations to its blue light phones to help communicate to
students that it is all right to use them more frequently in a wide range
Located in Vancouver, the University of British Columbia is situated
on the western tip of the Point Grey peninsula, with a magnificent 993-
acre campus surrounded by forests on all sides before opening up to
the Pacific Ocean. With more than 54,000 students and 14,000 faculty
and staff, it is consistently ranked one of the top public universities in
the world and has been home to eight Nobel Prize winners, 71 Rhoades
Scholars and 65 Olympic medalists over the years.
According to its website, UBC’s mission is to “create an exceptional
learning environment that fosters global citizenship, advances a civil
and sustainable society and supports outstanding research to serve the
people of British Columbia, Canada and the world.” In order to help
maintain that prestigious reputation, UBC places an emphasis on fostering
a secure campus environment that is based on respect and civility.
That can be a unique challenge for leading university in a city with
a population of more than 630,000 and more than 2.4 million people
in the greater metro region.
Located in high traffic areas are Help Points, 9-foot tall pedestals
topped with a powerful LED beacon/strobe light and known for their
rugged durability and multifaceted features. They also include IP5000
VoIP speakerphones that give people the opportunity to request assistance
in an easy and efficient manner.
A number of Help Points also are equipped with Overhead Camera
Mounts that give UBC security personnel the ability to effectively
monitor situations on campus. Managing the entire system is Code
Blue’s ToolVox, a sophisticated systems management platform that
provides an efficient means to test and program emergency units.
UBC officials worked to determine a way to encourage more people to
take advantage of the blue light phones located throughout campus.
Together with the manufacturer, they created customized recessed buttons
that the university feels will be better suited to its audience by
being more tactile and visible.
“The change made it more accessible and sensitive for our campus,” UBC Campus Security Operations Manager Ali Mojdehi said. “That
was something based on our feedback, and [the company was] accommodating
to our feedback which made it a more positive experience.”
Universities should always work with the the companies supplying
their product to create the most effiecient and useful tool for their
campus. Whether it’s the paint, graphics, configurations or more, the
company will strive to make sure universities are able to find the right
"We understand that the needs for each of our customers are going
to be different,” Code Blue Chief Design Officer David Fleming said.
“That is why we offer a number of unique modifications to suit their
specific applications, plus the flexibility to create custom solutions
when they require an even more personalized experience.”
UBC also made a change to the wording on its Help Points in an
effort to encourage the student population to engage in more open
communication with UBC safety and security personnel.
“We feel it is one of those systems that students can engage with
quickly and access help if needed,” Mojdehi said. “One thing we did
was change the wording from ‘emergency’ to ‘assistance.’ We found
that people may not feel or know if it was an emergency for security or
police. To make them feel more comfortable and make us more accessible,
we had the units say assistance.”
That subtle-yet-effective change has resulted in more calls, which
hopefully is giving the entire campus community the peace of mind
that help is available at the touch of a button.
The entire campus population should feel comfortable pushing the
button on a blue light phone. Students have more than enough to think
about during the semester. Why should safety be one of them? Having
the access to request help quickly and easily hopefully will help them
both feel safe and be safe.
Regardless of the application, tragic campus incidents involving
active shooters, vehicle attacks, bomb threats and other dangerous
incidents unfortunately have proven that it’s vital for universities and
colleges to have the proper tools in place that allow
the campus community an opportunity to easily
communicate with first responders when help is
This article originally appeared in the August 2018 issue of CSLS.