I’m blue, but the lights no longer are.

My campus has just decided to rid themselves of the blue safety lights, which are “outdated and obsolete.” This is true.

However, if their track record is any indication, they’re making just as ill-advised a decision in taking them out as they did putting them in in the first place.

Let’s review:

The “facts” about the safety lights from the campus press release about their removal include the following gem:

5) For violent emergencies, like someone shooting, it is not wise to go to a phonethat (sic) is out in the open, push a button that causes a light to flash, and have to stand there talking so the criminal sees you and can easily target you.

Well, duh. So why on earth wasn’t this a concern when they decided to install the bloody things in the first place?

At my undergrad institution, the safety lights were always on, bathing the place in a cool blue glow that actually looked sort of cool at night. They weren’t useful, but at least you could see where they were. Because they were (and this is important) Turned On and Lit Up at All Times.

fig 1. A Campus Safety Light at night. (note the lack of both light and safety.)

In contrast, it’s hard to find the safety lights here unless you already know where they are, because they are Not On Unless You Trigger Them. I went out one night to photograph them for a project and couldn’t find one. Then I did, and because it wasn’t turned on already I thought it was broken. Then I found a second “broken” one and realised it wasn’t a mechanical issue.

So let’s review: You are…. being chased by a mountain lion or something. A sentient one. At night. You have to first find a safety light, which is hard because it’s, y’know, night, and the mountain lion has a lot better night vision than you. But somehow, having found the safety light, you call for help, triggering the light. Now you can see the light. Of course, that doesn’t help you, because you’ve already found the light. It does, however, help the mountain lion find you.

fig 2. The Mountain Lion. (I think you’ve upset it.)

The lights don’t work if you can’t find them, and they render you less safe when you use them. Thankfully, it only took the university twenty years to figure this out.

But that’s not really the reason they’re getting rid of them. It’s cellphones.

(again, from the “facts about emergency phones”)

1) The phones were originally installed in the late 1980s and early 1990s. At that time, less than 10 percent of the campus population had access to mobile communication devices that would allow them tocall (sic) for help. Now, over 90 percent carry cell phones with them.

2) Cell phones are much better, as you can move with them, rather than being tied to asingle (sic) point.

Both of these statements are, again, true. But is it really a good idea to say that it’s enough to have most of the students safe? “Well, sure, bad things happen, but what do you expect, them going out without a cellphone?”

Also, in an emergency, it’s not impossible that you wouldn’t have your cellphone. That would be part of what makes it an emergency. If you were fleeing a situation, it could easily be dropped or left behind (especially if being carried in a bag or purse, as women are more likely to do). Cellphones also mean you would have to get your bearings/be mentally together enough to be able to tell the emergency workers where you are, since you are not in a set, easily traceable (by 911) location.

To sum: The original blue lights as implemented are stupid. The fact that it took them twenty years to figure out glaringly obvious flaws in them is stupid. That they think cellphones mean everyone is safe now is also stupid. Will it take them another twenty years to work that out?


2 Responses to “I’m blue, but the lights no longer are.”

  1. 1 REL
    15 March 2009 at 4:12 pm

    I’m a fan of the emergency lights. I know where most of them are on campus because I made myself aware of them due to the severity of my asthma, it’s a lot easier to press a button for help when one can’t breath than it is to dial a number and try to explain to someone you’re in respiratory distress (speaking + very short breath =damn near impossible.) I’m fairly disappointed they’re getting rid of these things, seeing as how I’m sure I’m not the only one with a medical condition that would make them extremely effective.

    Leaving it to public schools though, right?

  2. 2 Dr. J
    18 March 2009 at 1:20 pm

    Doing a great job.

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