A Direct Line to Security

This article originally appeared in Mass Transit Magazine.


Imagine for a moment that you’re at a train station or airport, patiently waiting to board your train or flight. Perhaps you’re perusing the magazine rack or maybe you’re waiting in line for some snacks. You’re casually looking around, not really paying much attention, when you notice a gentleman walk away from his bag. You try to be patient, waiting a few moments to see if he returns. Everyone else in the terminal seems to be busy going about their business like normal; meanwhile, anxiety is slowly building in your gut. Apparently, you’re the only one who noticed.

What do you do now?

lambert-st-louis-international-airport-6The obvious answer is to tell someone, right? After all, airports repeatedly told passengers not to leave bags unattended for years, while the Department of Homeland Security launched the “See Something, Say Something” campaign in 2010 to raise public awareness of the indicators that may be terrorism-related crime.

However, as clear-cut as it may seem, that option isn’t necessarily as simple as it sounds. Who exactly are you supposed to tell? The TSA agents back at the security screening? An airline employee working at the gate? The cashier at the gift shop? And if you don’t feel comfortable alerting any of them, how are you supposed to communicate your concerns? Call 911? Search for an airport office? Do you attempt to pull someone aside and chat discretely so as not to create a scene, knowing full well that you are now the one acting odd?

Obviously, silence isn’t an appealing option, especially given the horrors of past tragedies, but asking people to report suspicious individuals and actions isn’t going to be as successful as it could be if people aren’t provided with the proper tools to put that directive into practice. For example, a Gallup poll performed in December 2013 showed that only 45 percent of Americans had heard of the “See Something, Say Something” campaign and just 13 percent even knew it was designed to prevent terrorism. It may seem evident to many, but the absence of a clear and direct answer has the potential to discourage others from making an effort, further emphasizing the need for communication that is fast, easy and effective.

That’s why an approach that incorporates a security-level communication device layered with traditional access and surveillance systems is an optimal way to provide contact with first responders and security personnel at transit locations like airports, subway terminals and bus depots, and the parking lots they utilize.

Security at Their Fingertips

Communication devices dedicated to safety and security, such as emergency speakerphones, have been a standard at transit hubs for decades. Whether it’s reporting a suspicious individual or simply requesting information, these highly visible and durable products have offered an easy means for travelers to ask for help. They also give each location the opportunity to route calls to a local, dedicated staff, which then can provide a swifter, more practical response rather than waiting for offsite assistance.

Products that are primarily focused on safety and security needs hold a number of advantages over general-purpose devices:

  • Durability: Whether they are securely mounted onto a wall or an enclosure, they will be able to resist damage from vandals, weather and other forms of abuse.
  • Reliability: Unlike mobile phones, whose batteries can die or lose cellular coverage, they are available whenever they are needed.
  • Visual identifier: Signs, lights and more can help guide individuals looking to request assistance.
  • Remote hub: Many devices are capable of integrating additional security devices like public address speakers and surveillance cameras for additional flexibility and versatility.
  • Two-way communication: Not only can individuals call for help, but transit hubs also will have the ability to deliver notifications to audiences at their locations.
  • Discrete: Using these devices can provide a level of anonymity for the caller and keep conversations private for individuals seeking assistance.

According to a study conducted by the University of Texas at Austin titled “Using Multiple Channels and Sources to Combat Noise and Escalate a Sense of Urgency,” pushing out messages through multiple outlets at the same time through dedicated security devices is important to both increase the odds of reaching a large audience and provide timely updates and feedback as an incident evolves. This has the added benefit of increasing awareness, minimizing the chance of people ignoring important notifications. It’s not uncommon for individuals to ignore text messages or emails, especially if they’re in a hurry or if they’ve already shut down their cell phone to board a plane. That’s why it’s important to provide audible and visual cues that cannot be overlooked, especially in potentially dangerous situations.

“When we’re in an actual emergency, we need to use redundant communication because once we sent three messages it didn’t matter how people received notifications, their sense of urgency was the same,” Dr. Keri K. Stephens said in a statement about the report. “In a test, we only send one notification. As long as we keep that difference, I think that’s a way to capitalize on being redundant.”

Blue light phones, for example — vandal-resistant enclosures equipped with a hands-free emergency speakerphone and beacon strobe light — serve an obvious function during emergency situations like medical incidents and potential criminal activities by providing direct contact with first responders.

They also can strengthen the customer service department at transit locations by maintaining a direct line of communication that will respond to instances like a flat tire in a parking ramp or a request to help transport a disabled traveler from one gate to another. Many people prefer to talk directly with an individual who is on site rather than be routed through a third party service or forced to search through a labyrinth of hard-to-navigate websites, guides, brochures, etc. It’s far more efficient and clear — not to mention reassuring and comforting for the individual — to have direct contact with someone on site who can easily answer questions and provide swift assistance.

Additionally, combining blue light phones with extra security options like public address speakers and mass notification software also grants more functionality and a direct way to communicate with a large audience in a clear and powerful manner. More and more facilities also are feeling compelled to add automated external defibrillators (AEDs), an option blue light phone enclosures can accommodate, since they have the potential to improve survival rates from sudden cardiac arrest by as much as 50 to 80 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

By taking advantage of all of these benefits, transit locations can market blue light phones in tandem with campaigns like “See Something, Say Something.” When an automated security message such as, “For your safety and security please do not leave luggage unattended … Report any suspicious items or behaviors to law enforcement” plays, individuals can be directed to the easily discernible emergency phones.

If you want to encourage public attentiveness among travelers and commuters, then it’s vital that you provide them with the essential tools to encourage dialogue. Asking someone to say something if they see something and then not providing them with the means to fulfill that request ultimately is self-defeating. It remains an abstract concept without a practical means of application.

However, offering a multilayered approach that contains several methods of communication, including blue light phones, not only can be a boon for customer service, but it also ensures a safe environment that encourages responsible awareness.

Michael Zuidema is the Marketing Operations Manager for Code Blue Corporation.