Imagine you’re a young college woman, all alone, walking to your car after a late-night class. You hear the sounds of footsteps behind you. Glancing over your shoulder, you see a large, menacing-looking man approaching. What do you do?
At many college campuses, students in that situation would go to the nearest blue-light phone and call campus security. As technology has advanced, however, new mobile options now enable students to connect to security regardless of their proximity to a blue-light phone. This trend toward mobile-enabled technology piqued our interest at Husson University, Bangor, Maine, where safety in classrooms, offices, and other public spaces is always a priority.
According to the Association of American Universities’ Report on the AAU Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, released in 2015, 23.1 percent of undergraduate women and 5.4 percent of undergraduate men experience rape or sexual assault through physical force, violence, or incapacitation. Husson University is one of the safest campuses in the country, based on the U.S. Department of Education’s Campus Safety and Security Data Analysis Cutting Tool, and we want it to stay that way. One sexual assault is one too many.
To enhance security on Husson’s 208-acre campus, we partnered with the Peace of Mind Company (POMCO), which makes a keychain-sized device that calls campus safety and security personnel with the touch of a button. When activated, the device transmits a GPS location, profile information, and the student’s picture.
In October 2015, we instituted a comprehensive pilot program to test the POM (Peace of Mind) device. Seven months later, we began making it available to Husson students, faculty, and staff members. Members of the campus community can choose a Silent POM that emits no sound when activated or a Signal POM that beeps and buzzes when activated. The latter also offers two-way communication with the university’s safety and security dispatcher. Conversely, the silent model does not allow the signal activator or anyone nearby to hear the dispatcher, although the dispatcher can hear communication.
The POM devices—which easily attach to a keychain or backpack for effortless access when needed—don’t require any special training to use. Activation requires the push of only one button, so those in danger need not worry about punching in several numbers when calling for help. Anyone who feels threatened can initiate emergency communication immediately, from any location, without having to search for a blue-light call box. These features speed up contact with emergency assistance, particularly since the device pairs easily with a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone. Members of the campus safety and security staff have the POM app on their iPhones and Androids, which allows them to use the GPS feature to quickly find those in need of assistance. This is invaluable when those in danger are moving as they call for help.
In addition, those in the Husson community with the devices become the eyes and ears of security. Anyone who sees suspicious activity or a threatening situation, witnesses a crime, or sees someone who needs help can immediately contact campus security or local law enforcement. When seconds count, earlier notification saves lives. Beyond emergencies, the POM device can be used proactively. Students or staff leaving campus at night, for example, can activate the POM and have two-way communication with security as they walk back to their residence or vehicle. In this way, the POM becomes a virtual walking escort.
An Added Measure of Security
In essence, the device provides individuals with a real-time, 24/7 safety net, whether they are on or off campus. If the user activates the device while off campus, the software automatically redirects the signal to local law enforcement by calling 911. At the same time, the device sends a text and e-mail alert to our security office indicating an off-campus activation.
The assistance covers personal health as well as safety. Among Husson’s 2,800 undergraduates, for example, is a runner who occasionally experiences seizures. Her parents are grateful for the options available for their daughter to access help if she experiences a health-care issue while running off campus. Also, requests to assist in room lockouts, vehicles with dead batteries, and other non-emergency situations can be handled through device activations.
After completing the pilot program, Husson entered into a three-year contract with the provider, which required installing special software and training safety and security dispatchers in how to respond to device activations. The support software for our dispatchers was provided at no additional cost. While the device itself is free, activation requires a minimal $45 annual subscription fee per device. That’s just 12.3 cents a day for around-the-clock, immediate access to emergency assistance.
Rather than underwriting or covering the entire subscription cost of the devices, Husson chose the opt-in approach: Our students have the freedom and flexibility to choose this service if they want an extra layer of security on our historically safe campus. Approximately 300 subscriptions were sold this year. Based on anecdotal observation, female students purchased most of the subscriptions, followed by faculty members interested in alerting security in the event of an on-campus incident.
Fortunately, Husson has not had a single emergency activation since the system went live in May 2016. So far, student activations have been inadvertent. To date, we have had only three off-campus activations—and all were accidental.
The availability of the POM devices has increased both students’ and parents’ comfort levels with the college experience. Students can contact security for immediate assistance wherever they are located on campus. Parents like knowing that their children can easily get help, even off campus, if in a threatening situation or experiencing a medical emergency. The supplier of this product is called the “Peace of Mind Company.” In our view, it is a fitting name.