Due to rising maintenance costs, advancing technology and lack of use, all but two of the nearly 100 blue emergency phones will be removed from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln City and East campuses this week. The two remaining phones are located outside of the two university unions.
When pressed, the blue cylindrical phones connect the receiver to the Communications Center for the UNL Police Department. The phones have decreased in use over recent years. With advanced technology such as mobile phones being used by students for emergency calls, there is no need for the majority of the emergency phones, according to UNLPD Captain John Backer.
“It is 2017, and we realize that due to technological advances and several other factors that the necessity for the emergency phones has been on a decreasing [trend] throughout recent years,” Backer said.
The phones, which were originally installed in the early 1990s, were purchased by the university during a time when campus safety technology was becoming more of a priority.
“Cell phones were not prevalent in the ’90s,” Backer said. “It was rare for someone to have a phone, and if they did it was only for work purposes. So, I can understand the importance of [the emergency phones] during that time.”
As technology developed, more students began carrying mobile phones, with the majority of UNL students having their own handheld phone in recent years, according to Backer.
The cost of maintaining the emergency phones was a key aspect of their removal as well. Backer said over the past 15 years, the phones have cost the university over $1.7 million. The price may be even higher due to maintenance and malfunction repairs, according to Backer.
“That estimated amount doesn’t even include maintaining the wires that go to and from the phone and the lights that sometimes break and need replaced,” Backer said.
Any calls that have been placed on the phones in recent years have been due to accidental pressing of the button, wire malfunctions or non-emergency situations, according to Backer.
Even if the call is not for an emergency, UNLPD still sends an officer out to the location of the phone every time it is triggered.
“The removal of the phones will also reduce the workload of our Communications Center of taking non-emergency calls and the officers we send out,” Backer said. “We want their main focus to be on receiving actual emergency calls from people in the area.”
The university now has different priorities when it comes to students’ safety, and the functionality of the phones does not coincide with the current atmosphere on campus, according to Backer.
“In a true emergency situation nowadays [the phones] are unrealistic, especially now that we have other options,” Backer said. “Early on when they were installed, there weren’t many options.”
Elizabeth Wilson, a sophomore pre-health major, never considered the emergency telephones as a viable option if she was ever in danger.
“I knew of the blue phones’ existence on campus, but I never really noticed them all that much,” Wilson said. “In an emergency situation I would most likely use my own phone to call campus or city police.”
Although she understands past usefulness of the phones, Wilson thinks it is smart that the university is removing them.
“I understand the use for them in the past, but in an age where almost every student and person on campus has a cellphone, there is really no need to have the emergency phones,” Wilson said.
The final decision to remove the phones has been four years in the making. The removal process involved meetings with several entities on campus, including student groups such as the Association of Students of the University of Nebraska and the Chancellor’s Commission on the Status of Women.
Although students have access to their mobile phones for emergency situations, Backer said students should always practice safety precautions and be aware of their surroundings.
“The time to think about what you’re going to do in an emergency should happen well before the emergency,” Backer said. “Knowing the police department’s telephone number, knowing that we are open 24 hours a day and having an awareness of your surroundings at all times is important.”