Are College Students the Canary in the Coal Mine for Enterprise Smartphone Use?

E911 Watch

Are College Students the Canary in the Coal Mine for Enterprise Smartphone Use?

By TMCnet Special Guest
Nick Maier
  |  September 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY

In record numbers, college students have returned to campus with smartphones in hand and no intention of ever using the landline in their dorms.

As a result, many colleges and universities are phasing out the landlines that have traditionally connected students with their schools and the outside world. Aside from the occasional poor signal through the brick and steel exterior walls of the dorm, this tech trend is changing the game for college telecommunications managers charged with providing a safe campus for students, faculty, staff and visitors.

Smartphone usage at Ball State University has reached the tipping point, according to a study conducted by Michael Hanley, an associate professor at Ball State and the director of the Institute for Mobile Media Research. The study, released in June, found that 53 percent of students on the Muncie, Ind., campus use smartphones, double the number of smartphone users the previous year. The study pegs mobile phone usage among students at a staggering 99.5 percent.

Many campuses have public safety departments that answer 911 calls that come through the campus phone system so they can respond quickly to someone in need. Today, 911 calls from students using their smartphones or mobile phones typically are routed to city or county emergency dispatchers who then must transfer the call back to the campus emergency responders. In the meantime, precious time is lost.

The same trend is occurring, albeit more slowly, in the workplace, where more and more employees are using their smartphones in lieu of the phones on their desks. Is there any reason to believe this trend won’t continue to accelerate? Even with GPS technology built into phones, finding a 911 caller in a multi-story building is difficult.

The time has come for enlightened communications professionals to acknowledge the “canary in a coal mine” and address this critical public safety need by capturing the current location of all 911 callers – regardless of the type of phone they use – and routing that information to the closest possible emergency responder.

 Nick Maier is senior vice president at RedSky (News - Alert) Technologies (

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi