Emergency call boxes in Alpine garage experience weather damage, under repairs

November 08, 2016

Hannah Harvey

[email protected]

     Following reports of faulty emergency call boxes located in the Alpine Garage, Public Safety, along with Parking and Transportation Services are working to fix issues associated with the lines connecting callers to 911.

     UCCS has 55 emergency call boxes on campus that each contain a direct line or other telecommunication device for callers to reach a dispatch in an emergency.

     They are located throughout the parking lots, parking garages and buildings across campus. This total does not include the phones located in the elevators on campus.

     Out of the 15 emergency call boxes located in Alpine Garage, a few of the phones are experiencing issues with signal transmission due to water damage to the copper phone lines connected to the box, according to Jim Spice, executive director of Parking and Transportation Services.

     Adverse weather conditions can cause water damage that tampers with the box’s signal transmission capabilities, said Spice.

     “As soon as the water gets in the line for the conduit, we start having them short out,” said Spice.

     The boxes contain two lines: line 3111 connects the call to Public Safety, and line 911 connects to a local police department dispatch.

     Regardless of which line is dialed, Public Safety is notified of the call and can process the emergency, according to Marc Pino, interim chief of police.

     Public Safety is working with the call box vendor to repair damages, but they have not determined a timeframe for when the repairs will be completed, said Pino.

     People who use the boxes are sometimes connected to a dispatcher and other times are not, due to the inactivation of the call switches.

     All emergency phones in the Alpine Garage are in need of a gateway switch with higher voltage to support 911 calls, but the 3111 buttons are functional.

     Public Safety has switched all 15 phone lines in Alpine to copper phone lines, although only a handful of the phones were experiencing issues with the call switch.

     Of the 55 boxes on campus, 11 have a radio telecommunication system that depends on radio waves to transmit signals from the boxes.

     Radio phones were installed in locations such as Lot 580 and the Ent Center for the Arts because the copper wires could not extend that far.

     Radio phones only have a 3111 button, according to Spice.

      “We had to come up with a different plan. (Radio phones) are about 10 times as expensive to pay for monthly,” said Pino.

Photo by Megan Lunsford: The Scribe

     The remaining 44 boxes communicate through a copper-wire system, including the 25 boxes located in the Gateway and Alpine garages.

     “If there is a medical emergency, it’s more important to get 911 called because they can provide medical directions over the phone, but if someone presses the 911 button, we get a notification in our dispatch that says someone has activated the button,” said Pino.

     Parking services hopes to replace boxes that use the copper wire system with the more efficient radio telecommunication system, but the department does not have an expected date for the conversion, said Spice.

     “I’m replacing those old copper line phones with the radio phones. As we have really significant problems with a phone, instead of replacing it with a phone of its own kind, we’ll replace it with a radio phone because all it needs is power,” said Spice.

     Though they are more efficient, the radio phones do not work in parking garages because radio waves will not transmit outside of the garage in most places.

     “Alpine Garage still has the (copper wire) phones, and as they break, we still have to replace them with copper line phones,” said Spice.

     “They’re not as bad in the garage because they’re controlled through weather; they’re not as cold, they stay insulated from inclement weather,” said Pino.

     Public Safety pays monthly fees to operate the emergency call box phones that do not transmit radio signals.

     Parking services pays for the phones themselves, said Spice. A phone that is not connected to radio costs $550, whereas a radio phone costs $5,000, according to Spice.

     Public Safety operates a telecommunication budget of $30,000 to pay for the emergency, elevator and offi ce phones. This is taken out of the police general fund, said Spice.

     Public Safety conducts weekly and monthly maintenance measures to ensure that signals, either through the copper lines or radio, are being transmitted to the dispatcher.

     A police officer conducts the 911 check each month.

     Since January 2016, eight calls have been made on campus using the call boxes.

     Of these eight calls, only one of them was an emergency, said Pino. One of these calls was a student requesting an escort, one was a child playing with the phone and one was a false report. Typically, only one true emergency call is reported each year.

     With the increased use of cell phones and a low crime rate on campus, the phones are rarely used.

     “Over 20 years ago, cell phones were not around, so there was a need to make sure people could get ahold of the police department no matter what,” said Pino.

     Many universities are discontinuing use of emergency call boxes, but UCCS is maintaining the resource to be better safe than sorry, said Spice.