4 Investigates: How reliable are UNM’s blue emergency phones? | KOB 4
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4 Investigates: How reliable are UNM’s blue emergency phones?

Nathan O'Neal
May 15, 2019 10:26 PM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- Anyone who has been on a college campus has likely seen the big blue emergency phones that are supposed to be a direct line to police. However, a review of maintenance records for blue phones at the University of New Mexico reveals they don’t always work the way they should.

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More than 140 emergency blue phones light up the darkest corners of UNM’s campus – a community which recently experienced nearby violent crimes including stabbings and shootings.

With the push of a button, the blue emergency phones are supposed to be a beacon of help – instantly connecting the caller with UNM police.

The 4 Investigates team dug through a year’s worth of maintenance records for UNM’s blue emergency phones and discovered nearly two dozen incidents where the phones failed.

  • June 2018 — A worker documented a couple of issues: “the receiving audio cutting in and out” and the blue light failing to flash when a call was made.
  • October 2018  A worker reported a phone connection “full of static.” The worker stated he was not able to understand the person on the other end of the line.
  • April 2018  One emergency phone simply “did not connect” to the police department.

For some UNM students like Chandler Watkins, those documented technical problems with the blue emergency phones aren’t surprising.

“I’ve heard that from other people and even certain student housing – same issues, that’s why a lot of us keep pepper spray and Tasers,” said Watkins.

UNM Police Lt. Trace Peck said those malfunctions are concerning which is why the university conducts monthly checks on all the blue emergency phones.

“If they’re not functioning properly, our IT department is notified and they’re pretty prompt about making any repairs necessary,” said Lt. Peck.

However, that’s not always the case. Maintenance records reveal several instances where a phone failure was identified, however, it took several days before action was taken to fix it.

For example, on October 4, 2018, a university worker reported the call button one phone did not function. It took four days before the I.T. department was notified of the problem.

Days later, on October 11, 2018, another test on another phone revealed the phone connection was full of static. It took five days before I.T. was notified.

COLLEGES SCRAPPING BLUE EMERGENCY PHONES

For decades, blue emergency phones have been a staple of security for college campuses. However, colleges across the country are scrapping them altogether. UNM first installed the blue phones in 1995.

“If the phones aren’t working, I don’t see the point in having them,” said UNM student Chandler Watkins.

Last year, Central New Mexico Community College removed their blue phones, calling them outdated.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico State University got rid of blue phones a decade ago because of too many false calls.

Meanwhile, UNM has no plans to eliminate the blue phones from campus.

Lt. Trace peck insists the blue phones are still needed and come in handy.

“We feel that they’re just another tool in our arsenal,” said Lt. Peck, adding later: “We have no intention of getting rid of these.”

“We’ve had several incidents where they’ve called in and reported something, like a person is over here stealing a bike… there’s a person over here that’s intoxicated,” said Lt. Peck.

The blue phones are just one piece of the UNM police department’s layered approach to keeping the campus safe.

Lt. Peck said it’s a vital option for sections of campus with poor cell reception and for anyone who might be on campus without a cell phone.

“We just believe as many security measures that we can have in place, the better,” said Lt. Peck.

Despite questions about the blue phone’s reliability, some students say having them in plain sight is comforting, especially when they’re alone on campus.

“I think it is worth it to have it here, especially with being an open campus,” said UNM student Valeria Teran. “You never know when you might need it but it’s good to have there.”

While some schools are scrapping decades-old emergency blue phones, others are investing in upgrades of both technology and infrastructure. However, UNM currently has no improvement or upgrade plans in the works for its blue emergency phones.

Credits

Nathan O'Neal

Copyright 2019 KOB-TV LLC, a Hubbard Broadcasting Company. All rights reserved

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