"Tragedy Unnerves Industry" By Rhianna Daniels, editor - Security Director News

BLACKSBURG, Va.--Although the shootings at Virginia Tech that killed 33 students and faculty members left lingering questions as to whether the university responded appropriately to the situation, many security insiders voiced support of the difficult decisions campus police and administrators made.

Within days after the tragedy, mainstream media outlets broadcasted interviews with parents, students and state officials who criticized the two-hour delay between the shootings at West Ambler Johnston, a high-rise dormitory, and Norris Hall.

What comes of the federal and state investigations into the incident will be revealed in time, but the nation is once again focused on how the country as a whole can better secure its educational facilities, and the student and employees that populate them.

According to a special Security Director NewsPoll, 73 percent of respondents reported that the Virginia Tech tragedy propelled their security departments to take another look at its organization's security and crisis management plans.

"Stakeholders will have discussions about the state of emergency preparedness, go over information that is available and evaluate if changes are necessary in the short term and in the long term," Jim Black, security consultant with TRC Security, said in an interview with Security Director News.

Michael Sherer, chief strategy officer for emergency notification service Send Word Now, experienced the flood of concern first hand as the company was barraged with calls from various educational institutions because they had decided to "fast track" upgrades to crisis management and security plans.

Securing open campuses like Virginia Tech has been a challenge for many security professionals. In our survey, 66 percent of readers said they do not think open environments can be effectively protected from such incidents.

"Open environments cannot be adequately protected, only managed through emergency response systems," said Ron Woodson, director of security and safety for the Center of Forensic Psychiatry. "It would do more harm to even think that an open environment can be protected. It would be a very bad illusion to create such a false sense of security."

Charles Sheridan, a lieutenant with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas Police Department, noted in his NewsPoll response that any organization can come up with a plan, training, equipment and funding, "but I don't think realistically anyone can ever fully plan for a scenario that resembles anything like what Virginia Tech endured."

Black said the open aspect of campuses is inherently part of the learning environment and is a hallmark of campus life and changing that is "counterintuitive to the culture."

"Increased security measures may infringe upon the open environment that universities have enjoyed," commented Mark Grabowski, director of safety and security at Southwest Baptist University. "The cost of losing some of the 'open environment' may be the only choice to mitigate the risk of further tragedy."

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- The Hackett Security Team

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