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Virginia Tech response wasn't good enough, says report

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Thursday, May 20, 2010

A preliminary review released on May 18 by the U.S. Education Department found that Virginia Tech failed to comply with a federal law that requires timely warning of safety threats to the campus community. Officials found that under the Clery Act, the university should have provided the campus with more rapid information after two students were found shot to death that morning. It was this two-hour delay between the discovery of the bodies and the issuance of an email alert by the university where the report finds fault with the school's response, according to an article in The Washington Post.

Here are some of the findings:
"There are two aspects to this violation. First, the warnings that were issued by the university were not prepared or disseminated in a manner to give clear and timely notice of the threat to the health and safety of campus community members. Secondly, Virginia Tech did not follow its own policy for the issuance of timely warnings as published in its annual campus security reports."

Of course, Virginia Tech officials opposed these findings and sent a 73-page objection letter, saying the federal review contained errors of fact and legal interpretation.

"Virginia Tech professionals acted appropriately in their response to the tragic events . . . based on the best information then available to them," said Michael Mulhare, the university's director of emergency management. He said federal guidance and industry practice indicated that timely campus threat alerts could be issued after several hours or even days. "The university actions were well within these guidelines and practices," he wrote.

Since Virginia Tech, schools across the nation have improved their emergency response systems. Many have invested in mass notification systems, but every security official I've spoken with has emphasized that it's critical to have multiple ways to alert the campus community. As a matter of fact, i just wrote a story about the University of Alberta utilizing its mass notification system after a toxic gas leak in one of its primary residential halls. Bill Mowbray, the director of campus security services said that while deploying their mass notification system was critical in this emergency, it was also important to issue messages via their PA system and fire alarms.

Mowbray also said it was critical for security personnel to make direct contact with students, literally going around knocking on doors to evacuate them. He said that many students didn't take the notification seriously and questioned its legitimacy, but after this incident he hopes students will take it more seriously.

UCI gun scare is a good lesson

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Thursday, May 28, 2009

The University of California, Irvine experienced a scare last week when a student reported seeing a man dressed in camouflage carrying what appeared to be a rifle near campus. According to this article, after security sent a mass notification message out to the student body, several other students confirmed seeing a person matching that description and carrying a gun.

As it turns out, the man was carrying a paintball rifle and headed out to the range to shoot with some friends, which, in this post-Virginia Tech time, is really pretty stupid. Frankly, I'm not familiar enough with guns to know the difference and if I saw someone walking around in camo carrying a gun I'd get real freaked out, too.

The university didn't go into lock down or issue an evacuation, but did ask students and staff to stay inside. And while this fortunately turned out to be a false alarm, I think there was more than enough reason for the university to take these steps. After all, better safe than sorry. Plus, it never hurts to test these emergency notification systems.

Radford Uni. in the clear after shooting, lockdown

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Friday, April 3, 2009

A fatal shooting near Radford University in Virginia caused the school to go into lockdown last night for about five hours, according to the Washington Post. While there are only preliminary reports about the incident, the article said that students were notified via e-mail, text message and voice mail to stay inside and lock their doors. And while all campus security directors hope never to have to use their mass notification system (as I'm assuming this is), it's always beneficial to know that the system is effective at spreading the word during an incident. I'm going to give it a few days before I give Radford a call to see how effective their notification system actually was at reaching out to students, but Radford University isn't far from Virginia Tech, so I'm sure students and staff are especially sensitive to this type of incident.

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