Near $500,000 emergency tower project reviewed after four years

By Dan Bodden

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UK’s blue Talk-A-Phone emergency towers racked up a nearly half million dollar receipt when they were installed in 2011, and they have since been used 10 times.

The cost of the initial 26 units and installation was $474,500. There are now 28 units and UK is in the process of bidding for eight more to place in the area around the new Student Center.

Each tower includes a blue light, camera, speaker capable of broadcasting emergency messages, and a red button that can be pressed with the assurance that police will arrive within moments.

The towers have, so far, mostly been used in non-emergency situations and never because of an active threat to campus.

Since being installed, the towers have been activated twice by people needing medical attention, once because traffic lights were not working, once for a question about move-in, once to report suspicious people, three times by children playing with the button and twice to request a ride.

“In that regard, I compare it to fire alarms; how often are they used in emergencies?” Chairman and CEO of Talk-A-Phone Samuel Shanes said. “In our lives today, there’s a tragedy almost daily now. But there are other emergencies that occur — an injury or a parent visiting campus can’t figure out where they are.”

The quickest response time from police was eight seconds for a person needing medical attention on Oct. 14, 2012. The slowest was one minute and 46 seconds on May 17, 2014, when an intoxicated person needed a ride.

“There’s no guarantee,” UK Police Chief Joe Monroe said. “It all depends on the time of day, traffic conditions, weather conditions, road conditions, but I think the longest one there was under two minutes so I think that’s a great response time.”

Imani Goshay, an integrated strategic communication junior, tried to use a tower in the main area of campus during her freshman year, but it did not work. She was walking home late one night when she started to feel like she was being followed by an older man who was behind her.

“He started to get really creepy and … it was freaking me out,” Goshay said. “As a precaution I pushed it, and nothing happened.”

Goshay waited a few seconds and pressed the button again, and still nothing happened.

“I remember on my tour day they said that if you pushed it, it was supposed to ring or whatever, and literally nothing happened,” Goshay said. “It was like it was off.”

According to Monroe, the other 72 times the towers were activated were for testing purposes. Shanes said the towers should be tested about once a month.

“As you can see, the true activations are very few,” Monroe said. “We wanted to make sure we maximize on the capability of it, and that’s why we went with the Talk-A-Phone brand that allows us to have cameras on top of them as well as loudspeakers built into them to give us three different things we can do with that phone. Each of those now has three capabilities versus the original one that most other universities currently have.”

According to Monroe, the message broadcast capability was used during an incident where students shooting pellet guns were mistakenly reported to UKPD as active shooters. The towers broadcasted a message across campus warning of a potential active shooter. The message should be able to be heard about a city block, or 800 feet, away.

Catie Hance, a pre-pharmacy sophomore, heard the tower outside the Kappa Alpha Theta house that was activated during a “shots fired” UK Alert on the morning of Aug. 25.

“It was like a really loud sound … and it wasn’t like a beeping noise,” Hance said. “I think it was saying ‘Take shelter now,’ or something and it just kept repeating that really loud.”

Monroe estimated that the towers can be seen and heard from about 90 percent of places on campus, excluding the medical area and arboretum.

Betsy Snyder, a psychology and Spanish senior, said the towers are a useful idea, but there are not enough of them on campus.

“I don’t think there’s enough of them on campus to make an impact really,” Snyder said. “I think for it to really make a difference, they’d have to put a lot more up so virtually anywhere you are you could be able to access them.”

There is no set distance between the towers but factors like recommended walking paths and pedestrian flow at night are considered for the placement, according to Monroe. Snyder said there should be more towers in places that are not as highly trafficked.

“Places like that where the light doesn’t reach,” Snyder said, “I think those would be the places to put more.”