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There are dangers in using the emergency phones because of the amount of time it takes to reach campus police.

Credit: Miranda Gong

The Undergraduate Assembly is working on a new initiative to make it easier for students to seek help through the on-campus emergency blue light phone system. 

Currently, students can connect to Penn Police by picking up the phone from any of the 700 blue light phone boxes on campus. UA New Student Representative and College first year Gabriela Montes de Oca, who is spearheading the project, said the group's proposed change would replace the boxes' phones with a button. She said students feeling unsafe could press the button and Penn Police would immediately be dispatched to their location. 

“Newer models which have just a [button] to call the campus police are much easier to use than opening the callbox and making a call,” Montes de Oca said. She also said she wants to increase the overall number of emergency boxes around campus. 

Montes de Oca said she is working on this initiative to make students feel safer on campus, especially in light of recent safety concerns raised by student groups about sexual assault on campus. 

She was inspired to bring this new style of emergency call system to campus after visiting peer universities with similar revamped systems. While visiting friends at Rice University, Montes de Oca heard of an incident where a student who was being followed was able to discreetly push a callbox's button.

"[The student was] walking along the path of the light boxes, they just pushed the button as they were walking," Montes de Oca said. "But the problem with [blue callboxes] on Penn’s campus is that you have to stop, pick up the phone and wait for the response of the campus police, and there’s just different dangers to that.”

The UA is planning to meet with the Division of Public Safety later in the semester to talk about implementation and hold a campus-wide survey to see how it would be received. 

“We look forward to meeting with the UA and learning more about this project and all of their initiatives,” a representative from DPS said in statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian. DPS declined to comment on the specifics of the UA's proposal.

Nursing first year Claire Dubois said she thinks the button will be faster and more convenient than the current callboxes.

“In an emergency situation, I think it would be valuable to save time with a button rather than picking up the phone and making a call. I think it’s not necessary to take the phone off, but maybe they can just add a button,” Dubois said. 

Nursing first year Tara Teipel echoed Dubois. 

“What’s the point of having a callbox for quick emergency situations if people can use their cellphones for that too? The callbox should be as quick as possible," she said.

While College first year Roseline Gray appreciates the convenience of the buttons, she does not think the phone feature should be removed completely. 

“Yes, crime is always a matter of urgency," she said. "But if there is an accident or fire or anything that would require a specific kind of help, it is important for the emergency services to know that before they get there.” 

All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.