What if it happened here?
The violence on the campus at Virginia Tech draws attention to the emergency procedures and prevention tactics at the University by Matt Dickey and Catherine Conkle, Cavalier Daily Associate Editors
Blacksburg, VA (rushprnews) April 19, 2007- Days after students at Virginia Tech struggled to defend themselves in the face of the deadliest shooting spree in U.S. history, students at the University canâ€™t help but ask a simple, unanswerable question: what if it happened here?
According to University officials, who say they are admittedly shaken by Mondayâ€™s shootings, procedures are in place to deal with similar situations on Grounds. Yet administrators now take on the difficult task of reevaluating safety measures and finding ways to prevent an event like this from happening at the University. U.Va. responds in the aftermath In addition to helping Virginia Tech by offering security and psychological services to Virginia Tech, the University has also steps taken to ensure security on Grounds. â€œWe have done several things in response to the Tech incident,â€ said Susan Harris, assistant to the executive vice president and chief operating officer. â€œWe yesterday increased the number of police officers patrolling … Grounds and put police and security on high alert for anything suspicious.â€ Although University administrators did consider canceling classes Monday, the administration decided that security concerns did not call for cancellation. â€œWe did not see any increased security risk at U.Va. that would warrant [cancellation of classes] for security reasons,â€ Harris said. Harris also said administrators felt that classes could provide and outlet for students to deal with emotional reactions to the shootings. â€œBeing in class and discussing this with faculty members was a very effective way of dealing with and processing this kind of incident,â€ she said. University spokesperson Carol Wood echoed this sentiment. â€œClass offers a safe environment where students could come together to talk if they needed,â€ Wood said, adding that if they had canceled class, â€œstudents who needed to talk might be isolated.â€ Vice President for Student Affairs Pat Lampkin said while classes will continue, the University will make accommodations for students affected by the tragedy. â€œWe considered how to respond for our studentsâ€™ and communityâ€™s well-being,â€ Lampkin said. â€œWe did decide to go on with class but to be liberal with those who have a direct connection or are tied closely with Virginia Tech.â€ Emergency response plans As many students struggled to cope with the tragedy, many wondered how University administrators would have dealt with a similar incident on Grounds. Although he would not comment on specific emergency response preparations for possible emergency incidents, University Police Capt. Michael Coleman said the department is ready to respond to a variety of emergency incidents including everything from hurricanes to plane crashes.
Coleman also said the University policeâ€™s emergency response system is integrated with those of the City of Charlottesville and Albemarle County through the Incident Command System to provide for a coordinated response. â€œThe Incident Command System is a management system that is being formulated by the U.S. government,â€ Coleman said. â€œThose systems allow us to integrate with local departments … to proceed with better coordination of activities.â€ He added that the officers of the three departments have been trained in using the system and are familiar with it through its use at events at John Paul Jones Arena and football games.
According to Coleman, the University police department will consider the events at Tech when reviewing the safety plans of the University. â€œWe have a very good relationship with Virginia Tech and we also work with other colleges in the state,â€ Coleman said. â€œWhen Virginia Tech has the time to provide the information then we will sit down and try to incorporate the lessons into our own plan. We will take all information and see if any of it is beneficial for the University of Virginiaâ€™s safety plans.â€
Harris said the event also will be carefully considered as administrators review emergency plans at the University. â€œThere is no question that [with] this incident, just as with any other incident, we will try to learn from it and adjust our policies and procedures to try to improve them,â€ Harris said. Coleman added that his department continuously reviews safety plans independent of the incident at Tech. â€œWe evaluate and reevaluate all of our plans based on the experience of the University of Virginia, based on technological advances, and based on changes in the facilities … and we do it based on the experiences of other locations,â€ Coleman said. â€œEven without this particular incident at Tech, we are constantly involved in reviewing safety plans.
Certainly we will continue to make those reviews. But it is a constant.â€ Wood said the University is now considering a crisis management director whose job would be to work with the city and county to oversee the Universityâ€™s coordinated response procedure for emergency situations. Emergency warning systems In his speech to the University community at last nightâ€™s vigil, Casteen stressed the importance of effective â€œinstantaneousâ€ warning systems in case of emergency. Wood echoed Casteenâ€™s message. â€œWe want to use everything at your finger tips â€” anything you can to get in touch with students and faculty,â€ she said.
Current emergency warning systems at the University include e-mail, postings on the University homepage, telephone communication and radio and television announcements. â€œOver the past number of years, weâ€™ve used the homepage as a place to alert students in a crisis,â€ Wood said. â€œWeâ€™re trying to train people that thatâ€™s the place to go.â€ Wood added that the top bar of the University home page would turn red in the event of a crisis. In case of a Web site crash, they have plans for an â€œalternative server for basic information.â€ Although the University was already in the process of updating its warning system, the shooting at Virginia Tech has given the matter a renewed sense of urgency.
Planned updates scheduled to be implemented by next fall include the ability to send emergency text messages to cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs) registered with the University. The desktops of University computers would also display emergency information.
Harris said because of the incident at Virginia Tech, the University hopes to implement some improvements, such as text message alerts, before the fall. Wood said additional plans include a new pilot program to place large flat-screen monitors around the University in areas such as Newcomb Hall and recreational facilities. â€œWe would get the message out on the flat-screens placed in high usage areas,â€ Wood said. â€œThe flat screens would normally be used for advertising or whatever that building or department wants, but the University would be able to override with an emergency message.â€
Wood also cited a system recently acquired in collaboration with local government titled â€œreverse 911.â€ â€œIt gives us the ability to target and mass phone-mail people with information,â€ Wood said.
â€œWe could tell students with voicemail â€˜Donâ€™t come to class â€” something has happened.â€™â€ Psychological support services In the event of a crisis, Counseling and Psychological Services at the University would play a major role in providing psychological assistance to students. CAPS Director Dr. Russ Federman described how the office would react.
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