Say “Code Blue Alert” and most Utah State University students recognize or are somewhat familiar with the term.
That’s probably no surprise, given that the notifications for a campus emergency come through their email inbox, voice message system or text messages.
“I’m glad that they’re informing us,” said Abbi Douglass, a USU freshman. “Stuff happens sometimes.”
Within the last month, USU issued three Code Blue Alerts — one about an attempted robbery at the Quickstop convenience store in the Taggart Student Center; another about a man who posted bail after being accused of soliciting sex from a minor; and the latest about a report of sexual assault at a fraternity with scant details.
Mike Kuehn, USU police chief and executive director of public safety, said it’s uncommon that multiple Code Blue Alerts would be sent out in such a short period of time, but it’s impossible to predict when the next incident will occur.
“I don’t know what you can say is usual, actually,” he said. “The safety of our students is very, very important to us, and if there’s a potential of a threat — or we think there might be one — I think we’re obligated to send something out and give them a heads up.”
Each notification is sent to campus community members only after top university officials carefully consult with one another over whether a Code Blue Alert is needed, according to Kuehn.
“We’ll collaborate on the phone and talk about, ‘Is this something we should do or not?’ If we are going to do it, how we should craft a message,” Kuehn said. “That’s really kind of how it goes.”
Going through that process is not exactly a choice for university officials or exclusive to USU. The Code Blue Alerts are part of the university’s compliance with The Clery Act, a 1998 law that requires universities nationwide to “provide transparency around campus crime policy and statistics,” according to the USU website.
As part of Clery Act compliance, USU must also release an annual crime statistics report — but that report does not keep track of the number of Code Blue Alerts issued every year, according to Kuehn.
The Code Blue Alerts vary depending on the situation.
For instance, the Oct. 31 notification on Lonnie Nyman — the funeral home director accused of soliciting sex from a local juvenile — was succinct, only including information about the man, that he “Has Ties To Campus Community Members,” and telling people what to do if they see Nyman at USU.
The Nov. 5 notification on a reported fraternity sexual assault was much longer. While it could not provide information on a suspect, it did offer tips for how students could reduce the risk of being victim to sexual assault or rape.
In that way, Code Blue Alerts are more than just an emergency notification system, Kuehn noted.
“It’s an educational tool … on things they could do to make their lives safer on campus,” he said. “This is a safe community … but there are things that can happen. We still think it’s just really imperative we give them all the tools in the toolbox.”
The majority of USU students The Herald Journal spoke with said they had no problems with the Code Blue Alerts, felt university administration cared about their safety and officials were actively doing something about it.
But a few students, including Janika Jenson, expressed specific criticisms.
“I have noticed sometimes they’re not super immediate; sometimes they come out the next day,” said Jenson, referring to the Code Blue Alert sent out on Nov. 5, the day after the reported sexual assault. “If I was around that area, I would like to know so that I could leave.”
Kuehn acknowledged there can be a delay in reporting, which means Code Blue Alerts can come out after incidents or allegations.
“Then we have to analyze that and say, ‘You know what, is there even a remote possibility that there’s a potential threat for students?’” Kuehn said. “Then, we look at that … and say to ourselves, ‘If it’s even remote, maybe we should send something out and remind them of certain practices they can have that will make them feel safer.’”
Another USU student, Melanie Haw, said she has received Code Blue Alerts over the years, but she was not aware of the latest ones.
“I wonder if my system is just weird, because I get the test alerts, for sure. I think I got one that was an actual alert, and I don’t remember what it was,” Haw said. “For the most part, I’ve just been like, ‘I guess it’s a safe school.’”
Informed about Haw’s problem by The Herald Journal, Amanda DeRito, USU’s Sexual Misconduct Information and Outreach coordinator, responded that numbers entered into USU’s online system, known as Banner, used to be automatically entered into the Code Blue Alert contact database. But now, students must enter their number into a specific field in Banner to receive Code Blue Alerts.
“All community members, students, staff and faculty, should visit banner.usu.edu and check the information they have entered into the ‘Code Blue’ fields to make sure they receive information we send out,” DeRito wrote in an email. “After checking information in Banner, if anyone still has concerns, we encourage them to contact us.”
DeRito also said that a “very small” number of alerts are not delivered to certain email addresses or phone numbers.
“They may be flagged by the email client for some reason, the email or phone number may have been entered incorrectly and they are not delivered, and some have opted out of the system,” she wrote.
Despite its quirks, several USU students expressed appreciation for the university’s implementation of Code Blue Alerts.
“It seems like a good idea,” said Nathan Peel, a freshman. “I’ve never felt in danger here at all in Logan — it’s a pretty chill place — but it’s nice to be informed.”
Even Jenson, who expressed some criticism of the system, largely appreciates Code Blue Alerts.
“I think it’s been really helpful,” she said, referring to some of the more recent notifications. “Those things didn’t have anything to do with me personally, but it’s helpful to know what’s going on around campus, the problems when they arise and how to be more careful.”