Editorial: NIU needs to better promote Safe App

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Summer Fitzgerald | Northern Star

A student holding a phone with the NIU Safe App.

The NIU Police Department has started phasing out emergency call boxes on campus in order to transition to the NIU Safe App. A planned dismantling of the call boxes will happen over the next two semesters. The features on the NIU Safe App sound helpful, but if students don’t actually download the app, the NIU Safe App will fall short compared to the emergency call boxes, which were readily available to everyone. 

The need for emergency call boxes has significantly reduced due to the proliferation of cell phones, said Lisa Miner, associate vice president of Institutional Communications and chief communications strategist. The app allows students to keep moving away from danger rather than feeling the need to stay near the emergency call box to wait for help. 

The NIU Safe App has features such as “Mobile Blue Light” that can dispatch the police to a user’s location at the touch of a button and Safe Walk, which allows police to monitor your walk to ensure you safely arrive at your destination. 

These features sound helpful, but if students don’t actually download the app, the NIU Safe App will fall short compared to the emergency call boxes, which were readily available to everyone. 

Currently, only 4,837 people have downloaded the NIU Safe App,  Miner said. A total of 16,234 students enrolled for Fall 2021, according to 10-day enrollment data. 

It’s unclear if all 4,837 people that have downloaded the app are students at NIU, but even if they are, it’d mean that only 29% of students have downloaded the app. 

While the Northern Star Editorial Board recognizes the need for safety features on campus to evolve as technology advances, the university must sufficiently promote the NIU Safe App before the emergency call boxes are completely removed. 

If the university doesn’t better market the NIU Safe App by the time the emergency call boxes are completely removed, assuming all those who have downloaded the app are students, almost 71% of students will be walking around campus with no call boxes and no app.

“NIU continues to encourage all Huskies to download and utilize the NIU Safe App and to help spread the word about it so that they and our entire community can stay informed and protected,” a university statement reads. 

The NIU Safe App is marketed in a variety of ways, such as during new student orientation, through the NIU OneBook, the NIU website, the Huskie Connections Newsletter and with posts in the private Facebook groups for the classes of 2022 through 2025,  Miner said. 

The ways that NIU has chosen to market the app are ideal for new students, but students that have been on campus for years don’t take part in orientation and likely don’t have access to a OneBook. If these students aren’t active on Facebook, they could be missing out entirely on learning about the NIU Safe App. 

Before the emergency call boxes are completely removed, the number of students who have downloaded the app needs to drastically increase. Because such a small percentage of students have downloaded the app, it seems that the university’s current efforts may not be sufficient enough. While the university can’t force anyone to download the app, it’s their responsibility to adequately market the app and make sure that all students understand its importance.