A review of the massacre at Virginia Tech concluding that lives might have been saved if university officials and security officers had alerted students sooner no doubt haunts all those connected with the school. But the report also has served as a needed wake-up call for colleges and universities across the nation.
Winthrop University already had begun studying ways to beef up security on campus before the Virginia Tech shootings. In December, a man entered a female student's room and threatened her with a knife before fleeing.
Thankfully, police later captured a suspect in the break-in, and no one was seriously injured. Still, the incident was enough to shake up students and prompt university officials and Winthrop security officers to seek ways to make the campus safer.
School officials recently unveiled plans for $100,000 worth of new technology, including an alert system with 50 display panels featuring strobe lights and sirens. The panels, which will flash emergency messages, will be installed in buildings across campus before the end of the year.
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The school also is installing a system capable of sending mass text messages to students and faculty members who subscribe to the service. The system is not yet up and running, but officials are taking applications from freshmen now.
Winthrop also might upgrade the music system in Tillman tower so that it could be used as an intercom in an emergency. But another safety measure is strictly low-tech: The school is passing out cards with safety tips and emergency numbers on them.
For example, students are advised to travel in groups, report suspicious strangers, and keep car doors and dorm rooms locked. They also are encouraged to sign up for free rape defense classes offered by the police department.
Frank Ardaiolo, Winthrop's vice president for student life, said that officials had studied the available technology carefully before coming up with a plan. All the measures mentioned strike us as practical ways to alert the campus in the event of a threatening situation.
As the Virginia Tech shootings indicate, it is better to err on the side of caution when it comes to making students aware of a potential threat. And the warning panels offer officials a way to specify to some degree what that threat might be. The ability to send mass text messages also seems to be an effective way to send a warning.
Ultimately, however, students can enhance their security by taking responsibility for their own safety. Following the tips offered on the cards and working together to keep their dorms secure will go a long way toward discouraging intruders. Eventually, these precautions should become a habit, something ingrained in campus culture passed from one group of students to another.
By all appearances, Winthrop is taking campus security seriously and is installing technology that will make the campus safer. If, God forbid, an incident does occur, everyone will be glad the university went to the trouble to protect itself.
Winthrop University officials have come up with a plan to beef up campus security.
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