Pulling an Emergency Infrastructure Out of Obscurity at Ohio’s Xavier U.
By Alek Kireyenka
College students have a lot on their minds. Many are living away from home for the first time. Some try to deal with the load of homework and studying; others just want to party.
Regardless of what’s on a student’s mind, safety and security may be down any list. For anyone, in or out of college, their security is usually an afterthought until it’s threatened.
Needless to say, everyone should have at least a general idea of their surroundings and be properly informed on emergency infrastructure. However, we live in the real world, where “less disastrous” personal thoughts tend to hold our attention.
Ultimately, safety and security infrastructure needs to be managed and installed in ways that bypass their stagnant obscurity. To properly utilize and identify these installations, individuals need to be bombarded with audio and visual signs. Xavier University also has identified this concern and has moved forward to address it.
Founded in 1831, Xavier University is a top-rated Jesuit Catholic institution about seven miles from downtown Cincinnati. The private co-educational university has 40 buildings on a 180-acre campus and nearly 7,000 total students. In order to properly patrol the fairly large campus, Xavier initiated a project called “Safety Team One.”
It developed a series of recommendations to improve campus safety and emergency communication. Steve Owen, its then-Director of Environmental Health and Safety, led the project and considered the emergency communication infrastructure its top priority.
Previously installed across campus were emergency phones that Owen likened to “antiquated R2D2s.” They were 3-foot-tall aluminum boxes with a one-button touchpad and small yellow strobe light. With such a short and obscure profile, the phones became invisible in parking lots and anywhere where things such as shrubbery got in the way. Additionally, the phones had been on campus for nearly 20 years and were quickly becoming obsolete. Owen and the project team decided it was time to replace them with a better product that was visible, loud and practical.
Chosen as the university’s solution was the array of emergency phones, towers and mass notification systems.
“Several people from our IT department looked at a number of products, formed a committee, and Talk-A-Phone was our final choice,” Owen said. What won them over was the company’s “demo van,” he said. “We were able to test the products firsthand,” he said, “and to experience things like a mass notification broadcast and how it would sound.”
Xavier University installed three core products.
First, they have its traditional emergency phone towers. Standing nearly 10 feet tall, these towers have a one-button emergency phone that dials directly to the university’s dispatch center.
These towers include an LED blue light on top to make them more visible.
Second, 16 WEBS-capable emergency phone towers for outdoor mass notification were installed. The WEBS towers also include a handheld microphone in the back of each unit so campus officers can access remote mass notification in the field.
Lastly, several wall-mounted emergency phones were installed on remote buildings where the towers aren’t an option.
Owen and his project team noted that when someone was robbed or assaulted, the first loss was commonly a cellphone. That meant a person was suddenly standing there without a means of communication. The emergency phones provide a quick and reliable communication tool for the campus’ students, faculty and staff.
The emergency phones are so visible and pronounced, everyone on campus knows of the communication tools available to them. This knowledge even rubs off on would-be criminals and delinquents.
“What we found is that the emergency phones and towers are acting as a visible deterrent against crime that can be seen all over campus, including the neighborhoods across the street,” Owen said
Generally, from any place on campus you can see at least two towers or wall mounts. The LED blue light enhances their visibility, especially at night.
“They give us great coverage across campus,” he said. “We made sure to put these new phones and towers in more strategic locations, compared with the unplanned system of our old setup.
“I think the visibility of the units has been a deterrent to crime, and I think the units have been a comfort to students and family.”
Compared with such installations at other universities, the towers at Xavier are labeled with “Assistance” instead of “Emergency.” Owen said the project team wanted to encourage patrons to use the phones for any situation, instead of just emergencies.
Regardless of the situation, when a phone is activated, the individual is connected to the campus dispatch center. The dispatcher immediately knows which phone was activated and its exact location. Even if an individual cannot speak or is incapable of using their hands, the dispatcher will know where to send an officer.
Campus police also are constantly on patrol, either on foot or Segways or in cars. They reportedly are never more than 30 to 60 seconds away from responding to an activation.
The 16 mass notification emergency phone towers provide university officials with a way to relay messages to large groups of individuals. Recorded or on-the-fly messages can be broadcast to single or multiple towers through the campus dispatch center, or remotely from each tower.
When a message is chosen for broadcast, the WEBS tower lets out an “alert tone” to grab people’s attention. The tone is then followed by the message.
Owen said, “Obviously, the system was designed for outdoor use only, but we found that many in our residential areas and those in buildings near the towers can clearly hear the broadcasts.”
Assisting with many of the campus’ wall mounts are access card readers. These combinations create “access points” where officers can monitor sensitive areas on campus and identify individuals who request entry. Such “access points” can be found at loading docks, faculty centers and entry gates.
Overall, the project team has pulled emergency phones from obscurity and brought them into daily campus life. Student and staff reactions are positive, and all are excited with the project.
“They love the visibility,” then-EHS Director Owen said, adding, “We’re happy with the outcome.”
Contact Alek Kireyenka, Marketing Manager for Talk-A-Phone, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Article Abstract from August, 2014