Hope dims for off-campus blue lights

AMS, Campus Security devote greater focus to mobile safety app

Last year’s AMS executive proposed expanding blue lights into the University District, starting with City Park and Victoria Park.
Last year’s AMS executive proposed expanding blue lights into the University District, starting with City Park and Victoria Park.
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Stationing blue lights around campus has made them ideal for accessing emergency services — but there are currently no lights off-campus.

There are 149 blue lights across Queen’s campus: 75 outdoors and 74 indoors. Outdoor lights include a red button which, when pressed, connects the individual via phone to Campus Security, whose staff then respond to the call immediately.

As part of their platform, the 2013-14 AMS executive — Eril Berkok, Nicola Plummer and Thomas Pritchard — proposed a plan to install blue lights in the University District by the summer of 2013.

Beginning with a pilot project in Victoria Park and City Park, the off-campus blue lights would have been under the co-jurisdiction of Campus Security and Kingston Police. As with blue lights on campus, Campus Security would serve as first responders. The Journal reported at the end of Team BPP’s term that efforts to implement the plan had stalled due to coordination challenges with the stakeholders involved, including the University, Campus Security and the City of Kingston.

AMS Municipal Affairs Commissioner Ariel Aguilar Gonzalez said BPP wasn’t the first group to introduce the idea of an off-campus blue light expansion. Cost and the question of responsibility, however, rendered the project “sort of infeasible”, he said.

A single blue light costs approximately $10,000 — which is expensive, but “not prohibitive”, according to Aguilar, ArtSci ’16.

Determining whether Campus Security or Kingston Police would respond to calls that originate from an off-campus blue light phone also posed a challenge.

Calls can be made when someone witnesses a crime or accident, feels threatened or anxious or wishes to request a safe walk home.

“How will different command centers of Kingston Police and Campus Security coordinate and sort of follow up and make sure the call’s been taken care of?” he said.

“These issues have been brought up and there hasn’t been an effective answer to them.”

Aguilar said Kingston Police hold responsibility for monitoring off-campus areas, but added that Campus Security can also respond if called to these locations as part of the Off Campus Response Program, which responds to noise concerns raised by Kingston residents.

In the absence of blue light expansion off-campus, key members of Queen’s safety community have emphasized the role of technology — in particular, the University’s mobile safety app.

The app, SeQure, acts like a “mobile blue light”, Aguilar said, in that it can be accessed from anywhere and includes a variety of safety features and information.

SeQure was launched in 2012 and includes Queen’s-specific safety resources — including emergency phone numbers for the University, Walkhome and Student Health Counselling Services — as well as tips and safety information for homes, cars, residences, computers and bicycles, among others.

Campus Security can also be contacted via the app.

“The focus and resources were redirected to the SeQure mobile app and that really went ahead really well and has been adopted really well,” Aguilar said.

The SeQure app has been downloaded more than 6,000 times, according to Roxy Denniston-Stewart, associate dean of student affairs and chair of the Campus Safety Working Group (CSWG).

Funded by a Campus Women’s Safety Grant — which covered start-up costs and maintenance fees for three years — SeQure was developed by the CSWG; Chris Sinkinson, ArtSci ’02, MBA ’11, and co-founder of AppArmor Mobile; and David Sinkinson, ArtSci ’11 and MBA ’13.

Denniston-Stewart told the Journal via email that the app’s features are reviewed by the CSWG every year, and new links and information are added where appropriate. In 2013, this included additional information about mental health resources, while new links to student support services were added this summer.

Highlighting recent Student Affairs surveys — which show that a high percentage of students carry mobile smart devices — Campus Security Director David Patterson said that the University is looking beyond the traditional blue lights method to respond to emergencies.

“We haven’t relied on one method of connecting with our students and have implemented additional technology,” Patterson told the Journal via email.

“As a result we focused on developing new methods for students to reach services like Campus Security, Kingston Police, health counseling services, and that through a mobile app called SeQure.”

Patterson said trained Campus Security staff consistently conduct safety audits around university property, adding that verifying “effective lighting” and improving sightlines is part of the day-to-day routine.

He said security is closely linked to campus construction, citing two blue lights that can be found at the recently opened Isabel Bader Centre. Construction of a new athletic stadium on West Campus, he said, could also lead to an adjustment of blue light locations, as work on the project progresses.

A total of 772 blue light activations were recorded between Jan. 2013 and last month, according to data from Campus Security. Sept. 2014 had the highest number in the data set — 79. The second-highest figure was from the previous September, when 77 activations occurred.

Figures from Jan. 2013 to Dec. 2014 also show that 89 total activations took place between 1-2 a.m. — the highest number in any given hour — followed by 64 activations in the 12-1 a.m. time slot.

Patterson said there have been challenges in regards to installing blue lights off-campus, adding that response capacity to these locations has historically been a concern of Campus Security’s.

“Campus Security and Emergency Services does not have any legal authority to respond or act beyond the confines of our campus and would take direction from our City of Kingston partners,” he told the Journal via email.

Kingston Police Media Relations Officer Steve Koopman said while the police are involved in the blue lights process, responding to calls isn’t their direct responsibility.

The blue light emergency phones are a “two-call service”, where — if required — Campus Security can contact the police after receiving a call from a blue light phone.

Koopman said installing blue lights off-campus could bring about further questions about providing “fair, reasonable and equal representation” to the whole community.

“So, it would then beg the next question — do we now need to offer those same exact services to St. Lawrence College, another institution, any other schooling services? It suddenly opens up a much larger picture,” Koopman said.

He added that new technology — including police response and location-tracking mobile apps — could “potentially” substitute for some physical infrastructure, such as new blue lights off-campus.

“If this was proposed back in the year 2000, we may have said, ‘well, this may be the only viable service for those that are in a potential area that they feel would be conducive to have a blue light system’,” Koopman said.

“The maintenance of it and the potential for abuse in regards to false notifications is almost nullified when almost a vast majority of people — especially students — have cellphone technology right in their palms.”

But Koopman added this technology has also brought about concerns of false notifications through “pocket dials”, adding to the strain on the already high volume of calls received by Kingston Police — 40,000 per year, averaging approximately 110 each day.

The 9-1-1 system, he said, is ultimately the most dependable means to use in an emergency.

“I think if we started having to police the blue lights systems — not only for front-line response but also from a communications and emergency notification perspective — there may be too much of an onus and too much call service for us to be able to properly give evenly distributed response to the City,” he said.

“We’ll always support the system and we’ll always be there to assist Queen’s Campus Security if required. We just don’t feel that we have to take on the role and responsibility that Queen’s Campus Security and the administration already takes upon themselves.”

— With files from Laura Russell

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