Virginia Tech Massacre Update

The latest news on the Virginia Tech massacre raises more questions about how the university’s administration handled the situation immediately following the first deaths in a campus dormitory early in the morning of April 16, 2007.

Apparently two assistants notified their families about the shootings that killed two students almost 90 minutes before a campus-wide e-mail warning was sent to faculty and students. Even the trash collection was cancelled more than 20 minutes before teachers and students were warned there was a potential gunman loose on the campus.

Patrick Fiel, ADT’s public safety advisor, was at Virginia Tech within 24 hours of the shootings that left 33 people dead. Since then he has carefully studied the reports that have followed. We asked him about the importance of this new information.

The news that two administrators notified members of their families was not out of the ordinary, he said.

“They had information and shared it in a normal conversation with relatives,” Fiel said. “The problem was, and continues to be, the extraordinary amount of time it took administrators to realize they had a serious situation on their hands and get word out to the students and employees of the university.”

He said he could understand the anger families of those who died might feel hearing that administrators thought it was more important to delay trash collections than to complete a mass notification of the early morning shootings. The killer, Seung-Hui Cho, returned to campus three hours later and killed 30 more people before turning a gun on himself.

“The emergency communications systems available then and today take only a few minutes to compose a message and share it simultaneously with thousands of people,” Fiel said. “The university had two different alert policies at the time, which led to delays. Everyone will always wonder if the later deaths could have been prevented if administrators had acted quickly and decisively earlier that morning.”

He said the recent news only highlights how vital it is for every school, K-20, to have a practiced emergency plan in place to handle and lockdown the campus as needed in this type of event and other emergency situations.

“Of course, hindsight is 20/20, but we must continue to probe this tragedy and learn what was done right and wrong so that we can make it less likely that something like this will happen again on an American campus,” he said.

-- PSW Staff