A special edition of The Daily Nebraskan’s news podcast for the endowment magazine, It Won’t Happen Here: An In-Depth Look at Safety on Campus.
Elizabeth Rembert: Hello, and welcome to a special installment of The Daily Nebraskan podcast. In this series, we will highlight stories in The DN’s special edition magazine titled “It Won’t Happen Here: An In-Depth Look At Safety On Campus.” The magazine analyzes several facets of UNL safety, from road safety to protocol in the event of an active-shooter situation. I’m senior news editor Elizabeth Rembert and today, we will focus on Will Bauer’s article about how lighting plays a role in campus safety. Thank you for being with us Will!
Will Bauer: Thanks for having me!
Rembert: So let’s dive into your story. As a student, what has been your experience and thoughts about the lights on campus? What were your first questions about the story?
Bauer: I guess, to start off, I naturally don’t think of lighting in general, and I think part of that is because I’m a guy and I don’t necessarily worry about stuff like that. I was discussing ideas of campus safety, and I was talking to a friend who has a sister who lives on East Campus, and it was a great concern to her that she thought the lighting was so poor. They don’t like walking around, and a lot of girls carry pepper spray and other stuff like that. It’s just not something that I think of, and I just wanted to know where the university was at.
I was able to talk to Larry Steiger and Emily Casper, and they’re heavily involved in Facilities, Operations and Maintenance to help not only in lighting but also in landscaping, and how that kind of affects the whole safety campus environment. It was really fun to pick their brains and see where they’re at with all these campus safety renovations.
Rembert: Awesome. In talking to them you talked about how lights on campus is more than just like, sprinkling lights around. It seems like there’s a lot of thought behind the placement, so what kind of research and consideration goes into these decisions?
Bauer: So when they first figured out they wanted to do some renovations and that lighting wasn’t up to par, they wanted to have an educated way of going out and strategically replacing all these lights. They only have “x” amount of money and they wanted to be as effective as they can be with this money. So they hired an engineering firm from Omaha who came in and measured the amount of light that hit the ground in many different places throughout campus. They basically came up with this grid, and the places that are the really dark places, you can tell that from the grid. It’s pretty cool to see it. They had to take into consideration a horizontal and vertical component of light. Horizontal is how big the radius of the light is, and vertical is how much I can see your face when we’re walking. The focus of this lighting study and the renovations was to make the vertical component better. People, pedestrians, when they’re walking on the sidewalk when they can see people’s faces better that actually plays a big psychological factor into how safe you feel.
Rembert: So how are students involved in those decisions?
Bauer: So students are as involved as much as they want to be. If you are really passionate about lighting and campus safety, get in contact with these people, get in contact with the ASUN representative that focuses on campus safety, because they want to hear your feedback. I know Emily Casper said she loves hearing from ASUN and other students because you’re the people on campus actively everyday, you see it probably better than they do.
They go around every year to 18 months and they do a walk around campus. It’s folks from Facilities, Operations, Maintenance, UNLPD, ASUN, students are welcome, and they walk around and identify areas that have landscaping or lighting issues. They mark those and make them a priority and try to get them fixed. This is all while they’re currently doing an update to switch from old Westinghouse lights to LEDS, which are brighter and more efficient, and save you a little money. A little greener. They should be getting done, because as of mid-January when I spoke to Larry Steiger and Emily Casper they were nearing the end of the City Campus and moving to East Campus.
Rembert: Great, great. So your story mentions a strategy that Facilities, Maintenance and Operations uses in its public safety through landscaping and it’s called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design, so tell us a little bit about that?
Bauer: Yes, so it’s something that Emily Casper has used to implement and affect landscape and renovate it to make it safe. There are places on campus that they identified through those safety walks that had landscape issues, and basically the entire idea behind it is opening up corridors and making sight lines bigger, so basically when pedestrians are walking they can see and identify people when it’s dark. Basically trimming shrubbery is a really big part of it, making sure branches aren’t hanging over corners and making sure you have as much sight when you’re walking on the streets.
Rembert: Yeah, absolutely. And I read in your story that that strategy is designed for large urban populations, like you mentioned Baltimore, so how does that apply to our campus?
Bauer: So obviously Lincoln isn’t a large metropolitan area and whatnot, but the amount of foot traffic and pedestrian traffic turns it into a mini metropolitan area. You have 26,000 people, there’s a lot of people here on campus and the application of CPTED works, because it’s a pseudo-urban population. So it’s pretty similar to an urban population like Baltimore, which Emily Casper worked in right after college, so they were able to apply it, and I think it’s been pretty successful for them.
Rembert: Wow, yeah, absolutely. So you mentioned through those safety walks and this kind of strategy they identify dark areas or places where the view is obstructed, can you give us some examples of those places that are a little more compromising, I guess?
Bauer: Yeah, so they had some areas that they picked up — Architectural Hall, the Courtyards, between Bessey, Oldfather and Burnett, and the corner of 14th and W streets. Those were areas that they were able to pick out that weren’t meeting the foot candle requirements, which is the unit that they measured light in the study. They were able to go there and fix those as well, and in the link that I threw in the story was an article put out by UNL, and it identified places that needed to have landscape renovations. There’s a before and after picture, I can’t remember what building it was, but you can see the difference from the before and after of what the shrubbery looks like by applying the CEPTD principles. It’s just a more trimmed shrub so everyone can see when they’re walking around.
Rembert: Yeah, absolutely. So with those dark areas that you mentioned, what kinds of things beyond the vertical, the horizontal, way the light hits and then just the viewing from the shrubbery, is there any other kind of considerations they make when trying to optimize the safety light can bring?
Bauer: Different areas have different requirements of light they need to hit, so obviously sidewalks need to be better lit than a random street, and parking garages and other areas have different requirements and different level of foot candle they need to hit. I also know the old Westinghouse lights were the kind of old, yellow-ish kind of light and the new LEDs are the whiter light. If you’ve ever seen the new cars with those LEDS, they appear brighter but it’s actually the same amount of light, that’s just the way light works with the light waves. It appears to be brighter, even though it’s not, and they were trying to be a lot better with all uniform LEDS. We may wander across an old Westinghouse light fixture that appears to be darker but it’s actually not, it’s more psychology that plays into us thinking it’s an unsafe area, because it’s just lit differently.
Rembert: That’s really interesting, it’s the difference between that image of a stereotypical old English street versus like a modern light.
Bauer: Yep, yep.
Rembert: Alright, interesting. So you mentioned when you were talking to other people how they felt as students on UNL’s campus, that there were some students out on East Campus that mentioned that they didn’t feel safe, or that now the initiatives are moving to East Campus, so what does East Campus look like compared to City Campus?
Bauer: The people in Facilities, Operations and Maintenance would say that East Campus has been historically not as well lit as City Campus. Partially because East Campus is different: there’s not as many people, not as many pedestrians, more open space used for agricultural production, greenhouses, stuff like that. It just hasn’t been as well lit. But they are perfectly aware of that and that’s their next goal. Once they finished up on City Campus, and they could be done, I spoke to them in mid-January and they were just getting to where they had just 15 fixtures left. They’re moving to East Campus and their project was ‘We need to make East Campus a lot better because it’s fallen behind just with the way East Campus has run over the last years.’
Rembert: Great, sounds like a really excellent story that gives us more information about something we might take for granted, just walking across campus and it all being lit up, or giving us more information about why we might feel unsafe in other areas. So now kind of a question for you: as a reporter, what interested you most about this topic and why do you think readers should read the story and care about this issue?
Bauer: Well, I mean, it’s your safety. As a student, it’s something I think you should care about because if you don’t feel safe in a place where you’re spending four years of your life, then what are your priorities in something like that? If you’re worried about safety in today’s world, where there are more unsafe things happening with shootings and everything that’s happening, I think it doesn’t hurt to take a little time to think about these things. If you are someone who has some thoughts about the way campus is lit, or you see something that doesn’t look right, contact these people because they want your input. ASUN would love to hear about how you think something could be changed in the university and same for the folks in Facilities, Operations and Maintenance.
Rembert: Awesome. Thank you so much for being with us Will, and thank you to everyone for listening to this special podcast episode as a part of our “It won’t happen here” project on campus safety. Be sure to listen to the other two podcasts, which focus on the almost classroom shooting in 1992, and locks in classrooms. Stay informed, and stay safe.