Digital apps at Northeastern State could be next wave for emergencies on college campuses
BY MICHAEL OVERALL World Staff Writer
Friday, April 06, 2012
4/06/12 at 7:02 AM
BROKEN ARROW - About once a year at Northeastern State University, somebody picks up one of the "blue light" emergency phones, scattered across campus to connect instantly with police dispatchers.
Even then, it's not always a real emergency - just somebody locked out of his or her car, perhaps.
"But when you do need one," says Patti Buhl, the university's director of public safety, "you really need it."
Relics from before the cell-phone age, the blue phones have been a part of campus landscapes nationwide for decades.
"But they can't be everywhere," Buhl says. "What if you're in danger but can't get to one in time?"
After several high-profile campus shootings in recent years - most notoriously the Virginia Tech massacre that left 32 people dead five years ago this month - universities have been looking for a better, faster way to call for help.
This semester, NSU became the first college anywhere to test a new smart-phone app that can do anything a blue phone can do, and then some.
Operational at all three campuses - Tahlequah, Muskogee and Broken Arrow - GuardianSentral will call campus police with the touch of a button.
On request, it can also allow campus police to "follow me" - say from a dorm room to the library after dark.
When activated by the student, a monitor at the dispatcher's desk will track a student's every move until the student enters a pre-set security code.
If something appears to go wrong, the dispatcher can call the cell phone or even send an officer to the phone's exact GPS coordinates.
"It's peace of mind," Buhl says. "You know that somebody is paying attention and making sure that you get to where you are going."
While several dozen students have already downloaded the app, nobody has had to use it. Yet.
"We'll be very glad if it's never used," Buhl says. "But it's there if it's needed."
Tulsa-based Illume Mobile developed the app, using NSU as the proving grounds.
The technology company hopes to market the system to colleges and corporate campuses nationwide.
But the old blue light emergency phones still seem to have a bright future, too.
NSU wants to update its network to include cameras and a PA system that could broadcast emergency messages across campus.
"The new technology is supplementing what we already have, not replacing it," Buhl says. "Even 20 years from now, the blue-light phones will still be around."
NSU app modes
Downloadable free for Android and iPhone users at all three NSU campuses, the GuardianSentral app has three modes:
"Danger" will instantly connect with campus police and give dispatchers an exact GPS location.
"Check-In" will notify campus police if a student fails to arrive at a designated location by a certain time.
"Follow Me" will allow dispatchers to track a student from one location to another, but only at the student's request.
College campuses have hybrid answers
The University of Oklahoma: 44 blue light phones, plus 31 indoor emergency phones. Students can use blue-light phones to request a free "Safe Walk" escort, available seven days a week between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m.
Oklahoma State University: 70 blue light phones. Officials can interrupt broadcasts on campus televisions to give emergency bulletins. And alerts can be sent straight to students' cell phones by text message or voice mail.
University of Tulsa: 31 blue light phones, plus 34 indoor emergency phones. Students can sign up to receive emergency alerts by text message, Twitter or Facebook. And digital signs throughout campus can display emergency information.
Original Print Headline: An app for campus help
Michael Overall 918-581-8383
Campus police officer Brent Young offers two ways to call for help at Northeastern State University - the old "blue light" emergency phone box, or the new smart-phone app GuardianSentral. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World