4/24/2007

Campus Security Issues: Justified Criticism or Glorified "Victim-Blaming"?

In the wake of last week’s terrible events at Virginia Tech, controversy has been swirling about whether appropriate safety measures were taken by university officials that fateful morning.

Security-threats on campus were certainly not completely foreign to Virginia Tech. An escaped convict months earlier coupled with two bomb threats in the weeks leading up to the shootings had, in some people’s opinion, established worth-while cause to re-evaluate and tighten campus safety measures—something which apparently did not happen, at least not to a sufficient degree. Thus, should we be faulting Virginia Tech for not pursuing a course of action aggressive enough to counter the situation? Or are we, as some suggest, “victim blaming?” Looking to rationalize an impossible-to-digest atrocity by putting its victims in the hot-seat rather than accepting it for what it was, a completely unpredictable terrible tragedy, plain and simple.

Many, including Tech students, have voiced complaints about being alerted to potential danger—via mild-mannered email—two entire hours after the first shootings occurred, by which time the second attack was already underway. Many have wondered why—even if the first shootings were unpreventable—the second shootings were permitted to occur when such a significant amount of time elapsed between the two. Why wasn’t the campus evacuated, may wonder? In the very least, why didn’t they lock it down?

A significant argument questions, however, (as university president Charles Steger has pointed out time and again) that on a campus of 25,000 strong—with a population density comparable to that of a small city—what do you lock down?

Indeed, as Associate Press writer Hank Kurz reports, Edmund Henneke, an Associate Dean of Engineering who was in the building where the second attacks occured, argued that criticism of the authorities' response was unfair. "We have a huge campus," he said. "You have to close down a small town and you can't close down every way in or out."

While no practical option may yet exist to effectively “lock down” a huge, open campus such as Virgina Tech’s, many argue that more effective measures could certainly have been taken to alert the students of possible danger. Yet the question remains, at 8 am with thousands of students spreading out across the sprawling campus on their way to class—spilling out of dorms, parking lots and cafeterias—what feasible way exists to intercept them?

On one hand, Virginia Tech does have an out-door Public Address system that could possibly have been utilized to this end. On the other hand, however, to announce over loud-speakers that a man has just shot and killed two students, is on the loose, and could potentially strike again could very well do nothing—as university officials argue—but promote mass hysteria, causing more harm than good. The question remains, however, are the potential injuries, panic and chaos commonly cited as reasons against making such announcements really more worthy of avoiding than more dead students? Yes, an announcement that there’s a killer on the loose might be less diplomatic and more hysteria-inducing than a level-headed email explaining a “shooting incident,” but very arguably it could succeed in getting more students off campus, and out of potential danger-zones quicker—and isn’t this the all-important goal of campus security measures? To keep students out of harm’s way?

As an alternative option to the PA system, some have suggested a campus-wide text-messaging service that could alert students and faculty of emergencies via their cell phones. Questions concerning privacy then inevitably emerge, however, as the only way for such a system to be effective would entail faculty and students to submit their cell numbers—very private information in the minds of many.

Issues such have these—along with inevitable debates about gun-control—have taken a political forefront as campus’s across the nation, reeling from last week’s tragedy, struggle to put in place security measures that are capable of preventing such shootings in the future.

It should be recognized that a select minority of gun-rights advocates—including Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners America—have decided to argue that it is not faulty security or lax gun-control laws that are to blame for last week’s massacre, but another problem: too FEW guns on campus. At bottom, however, it seems that many members of the American public have taken the events at Virginia Tech as a shocking and tragic indication that our current safety protocols and defense of our “inviolable” right to bear arms are out-dated artifacts from a safer, perhaps dangerously incomparable, time.

2 comments:

waffle said...

Although it's clear that nothing (reasonable) could have been done to prevent the first shooting, I certainly feel that the second round of shooting might have been all but prevented had students been better informed. For starters, the warning email should have been sent out much earlier. Given the time sensitivity of the message, I cannot see why campus security would take so long to inform students. As far as I know, VT did not have a text-messaging system in place and so given the one form of mass communication that was available to the administration, it is not clear why they did not utilize it better. Even if only a fraction of students had read the email, they would have informed their friends by phone which would have lead to a large percentage of informed students. As for the PA system, I understand the concerns of inciting mass hysteria but in this case, the benefits outweigh the harms. There is no way that the lifelong grief of the family and friends of those who died in the second shooting will not outweigh the hysteria and fear that would have been caused by a PA announcement. Having students in their locked dorm rooms is significantly safer than students in class.

HANNAHOLIVE said...

As a concerned parent, RUOK APP on the smartphone would be a great solution.