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How Has Campus Safety Changed Five Years after Virginia Tech?

It’s been five years today since a mentally ill student opened fire at Virginia Tech killing 32 students and himself. Just last month, a U.S. jury found the university guilty of negligence for failing to alert students in a timely manner when the 2007 shooting spree started. The U.S. Department of Education had previously ruled in 2010 that the university broke the law when it took more than two hours to notify students of a gunman on campus. It also fined the university $55,000. However, on April 2, 2012 it was ruled that the university was NOT in violation of the Clery Act and dismissed the $55,000 civil penalty.

What have university police departments learned since the 2007 shootings and how has the security landscape of school campuses changed?

To start with, emergency notification systems are a much bigger, and more important element of policing efforts. Campuses use a variety of notification systems from email and text messages to electronic bulletin boards, speakers and sirens, and systems that freeze networked computers to display warning messages. And let’s not forget about the importance of social media. Universities are constantly using social media platforms to inform their students about what’s happening as well as warn them of potential dangers.

One of the biggest concerns though, is whether or not students will respond the way they should when police send out such notifications. It’s a very difficult scenario for campus police because on one hand they want to keep students informed, but on the other hand they don’t want to cause panic. Often times police don’t have very much information about what’s happening and it’s not always clear what instructions they should give students. And then there’s the concern if you overuse the system, students will start ignoring it.

What has your experience been? Do you think students are more aware of safety on campus since the April 16, 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech or is it now a faded memory five years after the tragedy?

Leischen Kranick is a Managing Editor at AMU Edge. She has 15 years of experience writing articles and producing podcasts on topics relevant to law enforcement, fire services, emergency management, private security, and national security.

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