The Virginia Tech shootings that claimed the lives of 32 people on April 16, 2007 when a mentally ill student, Seung Hui Cho, opened fire on campus, has often been cited as the impetus for the wide-spread adoption of mass notification at schools around the country. Yesterday, The Washington Post reported that Virginia Tech has been fined $55,000 for violating campus safety laws and failing to provide timely warnings to students and staff.
But some people don't think that fine is substantial enough:
“Virginia Tech’s violations warrant a fine far in excess of what is currently permissible under the statute,” wrote Mary E. Gust, an official in the Education Department’s Office of Federal Student Aid.
Here's how the response happened:
At issue is what the university should have done after two students — Cho’s first victims — were discovered fatally shot in the West Ambler Johnston dormitory. Gust’s letter indicated that the first Virginia Tech police officers arrived at the scene about 7:24 a.m. and that Steger was aware of the incident by 8:11 a.m.
The university waited until 9:26 a.m. to issue a campuswide e-mail alert about the shootings. The alert, according to Gust, did not mention that there had been a killing on campus and did not direct the community to take any safety measures.
Soon afterward, Cho started killing teachers and other students in Norris Hall, an academic building.
I have to agree that $55,000 is really piddly (not even close to a student's four-year tuition, I might note) and particularly low especially considering that also in 2007, Eastern Michigan University was fined $357,500 after officials mishandled communications following a campus homicide, according to the article.
But then again, hasn't this school suffered enough? It's been an unfortunately lesson for security practitioners around the world about the importance of having a strong mass notification system in place, one that provides students with timely and accurate information. What do you think? Should Virginia Tech have to pay more?