At night, small blue lights shine across campus. They are not for aesthetics, though — they identify emergency phone stations that provide immediate contact with dispatchers at the Lehigh University Police Department, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
For years, the blue light phone system was the only form of direct and immediate communication between students and LUPD. Now, HawkWatch, a new safety app launched this fall, fills a void created by the loss of the EmergenSee app.
Jason Schiffer, the chief of LUPD, said HawkWatch is superior to other app options because it offers an array of features, such as the ability to contact LUPD while receiving directions and other emergency contact information.
“(The app) allowed us to integrate a lot of other resources that are on campus to help students,” Schiffer said. “It’s not just safety. It’s a way for everyone on campus to get access to almost anything that can help them.”
Another feature, “Virtual Walkhome”, uses students’ locations so campus security can track where users are traveling to and from.
“(The app is) more useful for when you’re off campus,” Ruth Densamo, ’19, said. “I think that was the only time where I felt like it would be nice to have someone walk me home.”
Ari Chan, ’19, said the app is innovative.
“I think it’s a really cool idea,” Chan said. “It’s kind of what you do with your friends anyways — like when your friend asks you to text them when you get home. Now you basically have a mobile version of that.”
While the class of 2022 was educated about HawkWatch during orientation, some faculty, staff and upperclassmen haven’t learned how to use the app.
Schiffer plans to find more ways to educate the campus community about HawkWatch’s features.
“We are getting a considerable amount of usage in the virtual walk feature, which is fantastic,” Schiffer said. “It provides people with a feeling of safety, and we are making sure people get to their destination.”
Although HawkWatch gives students another way to ensure their safety, many are still concerned with the functionality of the blue light system. Schiffer said measures are being taken to enhance and modernize the 157 emergency phone stations located throughout campus.
LUPD plans to paint “EMERGENCY” on poles of the blue lights to make them stand out even more.
“We aren’t looking to replace anything with technology,” Schiffer said. “We want to improve the visibility of phones on campus. We want to look at increasing the visibility of lights and the visibility of the posts.”