E-phone service spotty around campus

Students make an estimated 30 calls per day from the 82 emergency phones located on campus. But that’s only on the phones that are working and from areas that have them.

According to Doug Alkire, security corporal for the department of public safety, the need for an emergency system is apparent. Police are called to assist for a variety of reasons ranging from health and safety concerns to stranded motorists needing a jump start or directions to the hospital.

But no one is exactly sure how many of the phones are functioning.

According to Norm Chambers, assistant vice president for auxiliary services and chairperson of the Health and Safety Committee, the U currently has 53 free-standing and 29 hanging phones spread throughout campus, in the parking structures near the hospital and on the front of residential housing complexes.

Alkire believes there are currently only two free standing phones that are not functioning-one west of HPER and the other in the Annex parking lot.

There are also areas in need of e-phones, whether similar to the free-standing column phones or those attached to the sides of buildings. The nearest available phones to the Merrill Engineering Building, a site frequented by car burglaries and other disturbances, are next to the Union and the Park Building.

In February alone, there were nine reported car burglaries in the parking lots around the area. Last fall, an employee was raped inside the building.

Equally troubling are the dozens of disconnected phones hanging on entrances to the closed Ballif, Van Cott and Austin dormitories, where students and visitors continue to park cars in the surrounding lots. The disconnected phones are not identified as such and there are no signs directing students to other emergency services.

Unlike the engineering building, students do not have access to pay phones or campus phones to call 911 at the vacant dorms. Alkire blames the high price of power and phone lines for the lack of e-phones at the engineering building and for the U’s decision to disconnect the phones at the old dorms.

In order to alert students the phones were disconnected or broken, Police Chief Lynn Mitchell said he recommended putting a hood over the broken phones.

Chambers agreed.

“Definitely we need to do something to identify it’s out of service,” he said.

Chambers calls the repair of the phones an “ongoing” operation. As part of a monthly routine, Alkire and other officers push the buttons to check the phones, which are sometimes damaged by the weather.

They make sure the lights at the top flash, that the dispatcher’s voice can be clearly understood and that the dispatcher immediately knows which phone the officer has activated.

According to last year’s estimate from NetCom, the U’s communication services provider, every month it costs the U approximately $23 per phone line, $60 an hour for repairs and $500 for each new phone unit. NetCom estimated the cost to be $24,000 per month to maintain the phones.

There is a committee working on the problem, however. Chambers said a $40,000 budget request to replace old phones and add new ones has already been made.

It’s in the hands of the Capital Facilities Committee to fund the phones now, but Chambers said if the money is received, the engineering building will be the first to benefit.

To run a phone line and add a free-standing column to the isolated Merrill Engineering Building area, it will cost the U approximately $20,000.

For safety, Alkire suggests students take advantage of the escort service the police provide. Any student or visitor, at any time during the day or night, can call 585 COPS to be escorted to a car or residence on campus.

The Health and Safety Committee is testing new emergency systems that may be less expensive and more effective for the U. However, Chambers said the next step is to deal with the system the U does have.

The Health and Safety Committee hopes to receive funding this spring for the Merrill Engineering Building phone and for other e-phone repairs.

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