Following the brutal murder of graduate student, Xin Yang on January 21, 2009, on the Virginia Tech campus, school President Charles Steger issued a statement designed to reassure the school and public alike that Virginia Tech was doing all it could to ensure the safety of everyone on the campus. His words however, were more unnerving than reassuring.
Virginia Tech should be in the forefront of campus security, but it is not. President Steger’s words clearly demonstrate how far behind Virginia Tech security is when compared to other schools, such as the State University, Oneonta, New York. His words were meant to reassure by highlighting what the school has done since the terrible events on April 16, 2007. In fact, his words underscore how little Virginia Tech as done. President Steger’s words are, in many respects, a self-indictment of his continued poor leadership. Take a look at what he had to say:
1. “At Virginia Tech we have added 11 positions to the VTPD and now have 70- person police and security force.” In an earlier blog I went into the security measures that the State University New York-Oneonta (SUNY-Oneonta) has enacted. It is worth comparing those measures with Steger’s words. SUNY Oneonta, New York has put in place:
a. The ability to lock down every building on campus (with the exception of the gym) with four strokes on the computer keyboard.
b. Radio systems in all buildings for emergency use.
c. Blue prints of all campus buildings on hand in the police headquarters in case of an emergency.
d. A campus-wide siren for notification that there is an emergency on campus.
e. SUNY-Oneonta will soon have in place a video and card access system for all campus buildings.
f. SUNY-Oneonta has bought and installed a sophisticated key system for all buildings. The keys cannot be duplicated.
2. According to Steger, “University officials continue to work very closely with each other to identify and evaluate students in need. The Treat Assessment Team and the Care Team meet regularly to assist students with problems in school or personal life. The Threat Assessment Team also intervenes when it appears that an individual could be a threat to self or others in our community (students, employees, or visitors).” Compare Steger’s words with the program at SUNY Oneonta:
a. A Behavioral Assessment Team that meets every week to discuss student problems and activities. The group is made up of Police Chief Ingersoll, the Director of Counseling, the Director of Residence Life, the Associate Vice President for Judicial Affairs, the Vice President of Student Development, and the Health Center Director.
b. SUNY-Oneonta has a full-time Emergency Management Coordinator.
c. SUNY-Oneonta regularly reviews its crime prevention security analysis for campus buildings.
3. Steger pointed to the fact that, “The university works closely with the Community Service Board in ordering commitments of students in need of immediate counseling (Temporary Detention Orders).” Now take a look at SUNY-Oneonta:
a. Students are given a full security briefing as part of their campus orientation.
b. The Chief of Police has the power to act immediately and to take whatever action he deems necessary if an individual is thought to be a danger to him or herself or others.
c. Each staff and faculty member has at her or his desk a bright orange Crisis Management folder for immediate and easy reference. The folder contains phone numbers and contact instructions.
4. Steger also asserted that, “During an emergency the university can use several notification methods, including VT Alerts. More people within the university have been trained to issue emergency alerts through the university emergency notification system. First-responders can asses the scene and determine whether an immediate alert or notification should be issued by the police department.” Good start, but not enough. Look at SUNY:
a. SUNY-Oneonta has the ability to notify all students, staff, and faculty of an emergency through NY ALERT—a cell phone/email/text messaging system. All New York State University campuses will have this system within the near future.
b. The school is linked to major criminal data bases in Albany.
c. The University Police Department has an ambulance on hand, on campus.
d. It is a state law that university police departments on state-affiliated schools must have a Memorandum of Understanding with the state police on immediate emergency response and actions. SUNY-Oneonta has such a memorandum and maintains close ties with the New York State Police and the city of Oneonta Police Department.
To say that Virginia Tech President Steger’s words are a disappointment is to put it mildly. If he really had the safety of the students, faculty, and staff of the university as his top priority, Virginia Tech would have a far better system of security and emergency response than his words indicate.