Blue light units installed as part of new GARNET safety program

by Bobby Zipp
by Bobby Zipp

In late November, Public Safety installed two blue light units in two heavily trafficked areas on campus: the foot of Magill Walk and the parking lot next to Fieldhouse Lane. The implementation of the units comes in the wake of suggestions made in last spring’s Public Safety survey and in formal recommendations made by the Public Safety Advisory Committee, a group comprised of Swarthmore students, faculty and staff.

The blue light units, named for the blue lights that sit atop the tall structures, house several tools to both monitor campus and connect students to public safety. They are a new part of Public Safety’s larger project, the GARNET General Alert and Response Network safety program, which aims to expand safety resources for students, staff and faculty.

According to statistics put out by the school, available via the Swat Safety app, Swarthmore reports instances of violent crime well above the national average (a campus average of 7.73 per 1000 students versus a national average of 2.49 per 1000 students). In 2012 crime statistics collected by the U.S. Department of Education, the college tallied a total of 19 forcible sex offenses, two burglaries and two vehicle thefts, all committed on campus property.

In the college’s 2014 Annual Fire Safety and Security Report, a full listing of the new GARNET programs and other Public Safety department programming, nearly six of the programs are directly related to student-on-student crime. Public Safety’s vigilance concerning student-on-student crime makes sense — according to a New York Times article written in 2012, nearly 80 percent of crimes on campus are committed by students themselves.

There is, of course, the other 20 percent of on-campus crime, which the same Times article says students at other suburban, elite liberal arts colleges such as Wesleyan have felt arise from tensions between the school and the people who live in the town.

In Swarthmore’s increased attention to myriad student safety concerns, the department has worked to make the blue light units one of the center pieces of their response.

“Those who responded consistently expressed support for blue light phones, among other safety initiatives,” said Director of Public Safety, Mike Hill. Data from the Spring 2014 Public Safety Survey, — which approximately 522 students, staff and faculty members took online after an email was sent to the whole community inviting participation — furthermore, verifies that safety call boxes are a priority for those who took the survey. The category “safety call boxes” was rated second lowest in a question about the “adequacy of public safety measures.”

The units have various features including an emergency phone, a security camera and a public address system, and may house even more features later on. The units will ideally have dual purpose as both a deterrent against crime and a vital instrument for communication during an emergency.

The GARNET initiative also aims to interconnect new aspects of the safety program like mobile apps and remote emergency notification programs with other, more traditional ones like the blue light units.

The crime and emergency notification tools that make up the GARNET system include the blue light units, InformaCast, Blackboard connect and the free android, iPhone and iPad apps EmergenSee and Swat Safety. In the event of an emergency, the user activates the EmergenSee app, which collects audiovisual and GPS information and sends it directly to Swarthmore Public Safety. The Swat Safety app includes maps, crime stats and lists of resources, amongst other features.

A majority of those surveyed in the Public Safety survey feel “very safe” on campus. That being said, approximately 29.9% of students feel “somewhat safe,” 3.5% feel “somewhat unsafe” and 1.4% feel “very unsafe” at Swarthmore, according to the survey.

“… the walk from the library to Palmer [can feel unsafe even] when there is the shuttle … I feel like enough infrastructure should be in place such that the shuttle doesn’t feel like the only truly safe option,” said Michaela Krauser ’17. “The reason I feel slightly unsafe sometimes walking home is because there’s just no one out.”

The blue lights will perhaps redress concerns like Krauser’s. The addition of the two new blue lights, however, is not a finished project. Even with the addition of the new system and the blue light units, two vital areas deemed “least safe” by students who took the survey — the Crum Woods and fraternity row — remain unlit and unguarded by the units.

Public Safety, however, is looking to expand the blue light units’ presence on campus. “The college is in the process of transitioning and upgrading several of the older model courtesy telephones to blue light phone units,” said Hill. The location of these upgrades is yet to become public, but the change puts the college on par with peer schools.

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