Montclair: Taking a cue from the bizzare Virginia Tech massacre last spring, some colleges in the United States have started using GPS tracking devices and other security technology for safeguards.
The institutions going for the new technologies include Montclair State University, New Jersey. Here the students can use the timer and in an emergency can activate the GPS technology from their school-issued cell phones to instantly alert police.
“Maybe they’re hiding and are hurt. Maybe they wouldn’t want to talk because they’re hiding behind a desk and the gunman is in the room. They’d have a better chance of being located,” said seargent Paul Giardino of the campus police.
So far, not many students are using the feature. The university, which has 13,000 undergraduates, said the timers get turned on only about five to 10 times a week.
“I think this is a great idea. It makes me feel a lot safer. And it’s not even that expensive,” said Amanda Phillips, a student from Delaware who has activated her GPS tracking device to walk to her dorm from the train station late at night. The device would have instantly put the campus police on alert to her whereabouts if she had not turned it off in 20 minutes, and a computer screen would have displayed a dot with her location, along with her photo and other personal details.
By now the system has been fully operational, the alarms have gone off only about once per month, and it was a false alarm every time, usually because someone forgot to turn off a timer.
Giardino said the false alarms are not nuisances, rather they are training opportunities for the 32-member police force. Montclair State made cell phones mandatory for all first-year students living in dorms well before the Virginia Tech incident. Now, all new full-time ndergraduates-whether they live on campus or off are required to buy them. About 6,000 students have them now.
While some students praise the safety features, others grumble that the phones are mandatory and that they must be bought through the school for $210 per semester, on top of tuition and fees. The phones come with free, unlimited text messaging, the capability to read campus e-mails, and some free calls.
The university has entered into a contract with the New York-based upstart Rave Wireless for the safety technology and Sprint for the cell phone service. Montclair State said it is not making money on the deal. It said the total cost is around $2 million per year, almost exactly what the school collects from students to fund it.
Speacial cell phone towers have been put up in the campus to virtually cover every inch of the campus with the service service.
Raju Rishi, co-founder of Rave, said: “Montclair State was the first to use the safety feature, called Rave Guardian. A half-dozen other schools, including nearby Fairleigh Dickinson University and the University of North Carolina, now use similar systems.”