Students Fear Walking Alone at Night

Students Fear Walking Alone at Night

Here’s a Bright Idea to Fix It.

Colleges love to hype the security of their campuses. During tours for prospective students and their parents, guides proudly point out surveillance cameras and “blue light” towers, and they explain the intricacies of their buildings’ access control systems. Those technologies seem reassuring in the light of day, when shown to visitors. However, once students begin life as freshmen, they experience a new reality: the need to get around campus on foot after dark. Suddenly, all that technology doesn’t do much to make them feel safe.

A vast majority of female students are fearful of walking alone at night. Many male students are, too, although they may be less likely to admit it. Most schools offer some form of safety escort services. Students can call or text a number, and a security officer or trained volunteer will meet up with and accompany them to their car, dorm, or other destination. It’s a solid concept but difficult to execute at any scale. Some services cut off too early for the study schedules of student night owls, and wait times for an escort can be lengthy.

As an alternative, students will often use their phones as virtual chaperones to talk or video-chat with friends as they walk alone at night. This may make them feel safer, but experts warn that talking while walking can be distracting and create a false sense of security. To a perpetrator, someone focused on their phone may appear to be unaware of their surroundings and inadvertently make himself a more desirable target.

Poorly lit areas are the scariest, but student complaints about insufficient lighting often fall on deaf ears. For example, at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, a 2018 student-organized petition titled “Bright Students Need Bright Lights” argued, “From a security point of view, light correlates with safety.” A female sophomore wrote in the school’s newspaper, The Michigan Daily, “When going to study at night, students have to worry about how they are walking home and if they have friends to walk home with because of the poor lighting. I even have found myself walking home earlier than I wanted to from the library because of the poor lighting on campus. This has definitely impacted my studies.”

What if students could take control of their security without having to coordinate walking with friends or waiting around for a chaperone? What if they could amp up the lighting where they walk, eliminating shadowy areas where trouble may lurk? What if they could know, with 100% certainty, that they were under observation by a live officer from door to door – and what if nearby criminal elements knew it, too? Technology that’s readily available today can turn this wish list into a reality.

Most campus security operations already leverage artificial intelligence and automation within their security infrastructure. These systems alert security teams to suspicious or threatening events more quickly, empower them with more comprehensive situational awareness, and facilitate a coordinated response.

Now, integrated, smart technologies can bring students “into the loop,” connecting them via an app that puts them in control of the resources they need to feel safe.

resolution cameras, human and vehicle detection, license plate recognition, responsive digital signage and audio messaging, bright lights, sirens, and two-way communication with remote monitoring security personnel. They are available in several stationary or mobile form factors and have already proven effective at performing many of the same tasks as onsite human guards. They deter crime, identify security threats, provide autonomous and human-assisted remote response, and offer “eyewitness” documentation of events via high-resolution, recorded video. Monitoring officers receive an alert whenever a device senses the motion of a human or vehicle, and they can quickly intervene if the device’s autonomous response is insufficient.

On campuses, a “fleet” of these units can be positioned in parking lots, along pathways, and adjacent to dorms and libraries. When students are ready to depart a safe location and venture outside, a button on their phone summons the attention of a live, remote security officer who has access to all cameras, two-way communication systems, and other integrated technologies. Lights brighten, customized LED messages scroll across the units, and users can hear and speak to the officer from anywhere in the protected area. Communication occurs through the security devices, not the phone, so students can be looking at their surroundings instead of the palm of their hand. The officer “stays” with them until they safely reach their destination.

The cost of this solution is significantly smaller than that of hiring enough security officers to meet the needs of every student who currently feels unsafe walking alone at night. The devices are provided on a subscription basis, as a service, requiring no upfront purchase costs. They also eliminate the expense of upgrading permanent outdoor lighting—which, if brightened to the levels provided by the activated security devices, might create illumination too glaring and unattractive for full-time use.

Colleges and universities are under tremendous pressure to do more with less. Compromising students’ security to reduce expenses is not an option. Investing in a campus-wide “Light My Way” system, as described, satisfies the desire of students, campus security teams, administrators, parents, and alumni to create campuses that feel safe and secure to all students, at all times, day and night.

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This article originally appeared in the March / April 2022 issue of Campus Security Today.


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