THE MAGAZINE

Hard Lessons

By Laura Spadanuta

Additionally, many universities have special Web sites or systems set up to receive information or concerns. Deisinger stresses how important it is to do community outreach, because the campus population is always changing. “The things we did for outreach or awareness last year do not mean that this year the community knows what resources are available to assist with concerns,” he says, adding “So that has to be a continual process.”

Response Coordination

Another key issue is how various authorities will work together in the event of a major incident where they all respond to the scene. Many schools had good relationships with local law enforcement prior to the Virginia Tech tragedy, but even with good relations, coordinating activity on the scene can be challenging.

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS) lay out protocols for such situations. In recent years, more schools are adopting the NIMS and ICS approaches even when they are not required to follow them.

The basic ICS course is actually tailored for administrators in higher education, says Timm. “Now, not enough of them are taking advantage of that, but…we’re on a crusade to help them at least be aware and then get on board,” he says. He adds that it helps them become more familiar with first responders and gets everyone speaking the “same language.”

IACLEA’s Blake stresses the importance of mutual-aid agreements and working with local law enforcement. “You don’t want to be introducing yourself to these folks at the scene [of an incident]; you want to have working relationships with them in advance.”

Five years after the 2007 shooting, Virginia Tech received high marks for its reaction to the police officer shooting, says Blake. “They were really applauded by the media and others about what a fantastic job they did of getting the word out, almost immediately, to the community, and they had regular updates and so forth.”

That proficiency was the result of lessons learned the hard way after the 2007 tragedy. But at least they have been learned. “Virginia Tech sadly has a degree of experience that hopefully will serve us in the future for when those instances will happen again,” says Owczarski, adding, “And if we can help others prepare better for the instances that have yet to occur, [we are] glad to do that.”

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