SHERIDAN — The Sheridan College campus received a safety upgrade earlier this month to help usher students back from winter break.
Four emergency beacons were installed in the first week of January. The stainless steel beacons — commonly known as blue lights — stand about 12 feet tall and are intended to help with campus safety and alerts.
They essentially serve as large phones that can dial 911, with a button in the middle of the structure. The beacons have blue lights on top of them so people can easily locate one, hence the name.
One beacon stands by the main parking lot on the north end of campus and three are situated along the walking path from the Whitney Building to the parking lot by the Bruce Hoffman Golden Dome where employees park their vehicles. More beacons will likely grace the campus in future years as well.
“We placed them so that wherever you’re out on campus, for the most part, on the main walking corridors, you can see one,” assistant vice president for facilities management Kent Anderson said. “…We put them by major gathering spaces as well, so each of the main parking lots … Once we get some stuff in Gillette, then we’ll probably start to expand a little bit more.”
The Sheridan College Police Department spearheaded the process to bring the beacons to campus. Police chief Jason Vela researched the model and design he wanted and found a local contractor to install the equipment.
Vela said helping employees was the main priority with the first four beacons, but there might be more lights installed in the future. The beacons would likely be called if someone fell or slipped on ice and needed help.
Once pressed, the button dials 911, which also goes to Sheridan College Police. It has a brief delay because the system sends a message to 911 dispatch informing the dispatcher from where the call is coming. It then sends out a GPS signal of the longitude and latitude of the pushed button. Vela said campus police will number the beacons one through four to determine where to go if one is alerted.
Vela said the college has considered installation for a few years and it was just a matter of funding and timing.
Blue lights are becoming more and more common on colleges and universities around the country.
Vela called them another tool to supplement campus safety and response/alert time in addition to the mass notification app already in place.
“It was more cost effective for us to go immediately with the app first,” Vela said.
The beacons will ideally increase options for people to contact local law enforcement. Some people on campus don’t have smartphones, so they couldn’t use the app. The emergency beacons should aid with that.
There are not cameras on top of the beacons, but Vela would be in favor of that in the future.
Vela also said the next step in the overall campus security plan would likely entail installing more cameras in parking lots and entryways of residence halls. They already have a few cameras in parking lots.
With students returning for classes this week, the emergency beacons serve as a safe welcome to campus.