Across Nation, Universities Reconsider Their Own Security Plans

April 17, 2007
Within hours, authorities bolster police patrols on some campuses

University and campus police officials across the country said Monday that they would be re-evaluating their security plans in the aftermath of the Virginia Tech shooting.

Within hours of the massacre at Virginia Tech, some campus authorities, including those in Delaware and North Carolina, had already ordered increased campus patrols as a temporary precaution to calm students and faculty.

"The only thing we know is that people feel very insecure when something like this happens," said Stephen Baxley, associate chancellor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Baxley, who oversees public safety operations, said additional campus police officers were deployed soon after the shootings in Virginia.

Police in Delaware had stepped up patrols on college campuses statewide to ward off potential copycat attackers, state police Sgt. Jeff Whitmarsh said.

In interviews with more than a dozen university and local law enforcement officials, most said it was too early to recommend permanent changes to their own emergency plans based on the Virginia Tech killings. Some believed the magnitude of the tragedy would prompt new proposals for security.

"The impact will likely be profound," said S. Daniel Carter, senior vice president of Security on Campus, an advocate for increased public safety on university and college campuses. "There will be a close examination of how campuses approach security."

At the University of Colorado at Boulder, authorities on Monday had ordered "floor meetings" in all residence halls, in part to provide guidance on campus security plans.

"It's a reminder of safety in the dorms, not letting people that you don't know or don't belong, into the buildings," campus police Commander Brad Wiesley said.

"Ever since Columbine, which was all too close to home, our tactics to deal with a situation like this have changed dramatically," he said, referring to the 1999 high school massacre, about 40 miles from Boulder.

The Virginia Tech deaths came four days before the eighth anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre in suburban Denver. Two student gunmen killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded more than 20 others before killing themselves in the April 20, 1999, incident.

"We know ... how a shooting of this magnitude affects an entire community," Columbine Principal Frank DeAngelis said in a joint statement with Cindy Stevenson, superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools. "In the days and weeks to come, we will be available to support the Virginia Tech community in any way we are able."

The Columbine massacre prompted extensive revisions of security programs at high schools and grade schools. American Council on Education President David Ward said college campuses "remain vulnerable ... because they remain free and open places of discourse that preclude total control of movement on campus."

"Obviously, campus officials around the country will use this incident as an occasion to revisit their own security and emergency preparedness policies," Ward said.

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver, a 1988 graduate of Virginia Tech, said the incident was a reminder of a similar event 16 years ago at the University of Iowa. In that case, a gunman claimed the lives of five people before killing himself.

University officials in Iowa, meanwhile, said they were still determining how to react to the tragedy. "It's a little too premature to comment at this time ... and we do not have all the facts. But it's definitely a horrific, horrific tragedy," Iowa State University spokeswoman Annette Hacker said.

Contributing: Patrick O'Driscoll, Martin Kasindorf, John Ritter, Dennis Cauchon, Lindsay Nash of the Asheville Citizen-Times; Maureen Milford of The News Journal in Wilmington, Del.; and Perry Beeman of The Des Moines Register.