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.