By Mary Kate McGrath - December 2, 2019
College and university students across the United States may fear traveling across campus at night, and on certain campuses, students are advocating for better safety policy. In November, one student began a petition for more lighting and emergency call boxes on her college campus. Chloe Baker, the student who started the petition, implored the school to partner with city leaders to add more lighting and emergency call box poles in West Campus, according to CBS Austin. “It is a very dark area,” Baker said. “...All of the buildings are built so high that it creates so many dark alleys.”
This is not just an isolated incident. There are other higher education institutions where students have expressed concerns about their safety in dimly-lit, quiet, or off-campus areas. One university poll found 40% of students did not feel safe after dark in surrounding areas of campus, according to Campus Security & Life Magazine. There had been an uptick in burglaries which may have contributed to the sense of unease.
Many college or university campuses have made significant investments in physical security to help students feel safer, including putting more blue-light call phones on campus, transitioning to a more effective IP Security Camera System, and expanding shuttle programs to provide transportation to students, faculty, and staff. One key solution to dimly-lit areas on campus is a Safe Walk program, which provides community members with trained student walkers to accompany them between any on-campus or off-campus location. A campus safety app can be a powerful tool to supplement this vital program, providing an extra layer of safety for students and trained walkers during off-hours or on areas of campus with low foot traffic.
A Safe Walk program is designed to provide accompaniment for any student, faculty, or staff member traveling between on-campus or off-campus facilities. The program typically operates as an auxiliary unit of the campus police team, meaning students are trained and wear uniforms, but remain in contact with campus safety or local law enforcement throughout the process. Every campus will have a unique policy about how to reach Safe Walk officials, but typically, a student, faculty, or staff member would reach out to a designated phone number. During exams students can find Safe Walk booths stationed outside a college library or other on-campus facility. The community member requesting the Safe Walk will likely be asked for identifying information, such as their name, telephone number, present location, and intended destination.
Training for student safe walkers should be a collaborative effort between a local police department or public safety officials, the campus safety team, student affairs, and student government. For example, students participating in the Safe Walk program at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill receive extensive training, including crime awareness and prevention, standard operating procedures, bike safety, communication methods, Title IX, and a comprehensive technology overview.
On most college or university campuses, Safe Walk would operate during off-hour times, potentially bolstering support during periods where students are likely to be traveling at night, such as during midterms and finals. During operating hours, a dispatcher works with a team of safe walkers, relaying information about where the student caller is traveling to and any additional relevant information.
For any student studying late at a campus library or traveling back from a friend’s home off-campus, the program provides an extra layer of safety. It also potentially contributes to community-policing initiatives, allowing students to work alongside and communicate with campus police officials, offering additional information on areas of campus that may feel unsafe. Maintaining a safe walk program can also help increase student perception of safety on campus as well, since recent polls demonstrate just how many students continue to fear traveling across unlit areas of campus or between off-campus locations.
Many college and university Safe Walk programs operate full-time, while others are only available during off-hours or exam periods. For any school with a safety companion program, whether available 24/7 or during certain hours, implementing a campus safety app would work to support the Safe Walk initiative. The app offers a similar service to Safe Walk, allowing the user to set a safety timer while traveling across campus, allowing either a peer or campus safety to monitor their walk. If the user does not arrive at their destination safely within the set time, security will be notified and receive the user’s location and key details. The virtual escort is available to students at any time and can be used in tandem with a Safe Walk escort or for any solo travel across campus.
Students working on a Safe Walk team are likely to be equipped with a full set of equipment provided by the campus administration, including bikes, reflective vests, flashlights, and a device to communicate with. Safe walkers can use their campus safety app to keep in constant contact with campus safety or local dispatch, either to provide updates on the walk or to report any incident. During an emergency, app users, whether a safe walk official or student traveling alone, can use the app to immediately reach campus safety or dispatch teams. The app will then provide critical location data to dispatch, allowing first responders to arrive quickly.
Campus safety apps can help raise additional awareness of Safe Walk programming. For example, many colleges or universities may have their services underutilized due to lack of awareness, or can send a push notification to students through the app to inform them both of the Guardian service and Safe Walk availability. Information about Safe Walk can also be stored in the app’s content portal, which provides students with access to emergency procedures, travel documents, and other key resources.
Mary Kate is a content specialist and social media manager for the Rave Mobile Safety team. She writes about public safety for the state & local and education spheres.
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