from Chris Casey, The Tribune
Virginia Tech was a wake-up call for colleges to pay closer attention to unusual behavior. Besides more student screening, last year's shooting spree in Blacksburg, Va., spurred campuses to upgrade and focus their emergency communication plans.
Officials are embracing technology that alerts all corners of a sprawling campus should havoc erupt.
The University of Colorado and Colorado State University installed Rave notification systems in the past year, and the University of Northern Colorado and Aims Community College are looking into similar systems.
Just days after unveiling Rave last August, CU used the system on the first day of classes when a man stabbed student Michael Knorps outside the student center in Boulder.
The system immediately sent text messages to subscribers' cell phones, telling them the center was shut down due to an emergency.
"We had about 1,300 subscribers in a single day, and by the end of the week 5,000," said Bronson Hilliard, CU spokesman. "We now have more than 11,800 subscribers -- faculty, staff and students."
The system doesn't need everyone signed on to be effective, he said, because even if just a portion of students get the alerts, word quickly spreads around campus. The alert was used just 24 hours after the Knorps stabbing when CU-Boulder had a large power failure.
Hilliard said CU has found the Rave system best suited for large-scale safety threats.
"One of the things that came out of Virginia Tech is there is no single communications medium that is a catch-all," he said. "A text message system is great, but you also need to have the ability to immediately darken your Web page" and use other emergency notification tools.
CU has also doubled the capacity of emergency phone lines that carry alert messages and added training for police dispatchers, Hilliard said. "I think we're pretty similar to a lot of college campuses."
The gunman at Virginia Tech killed 32 people on April 16, 2007. On Feb. 14, five students were killed and 18 wounded when a gunman burst into a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University.
Marsi Liddell, Aims president, said fear rippled across campus after those events.
"We had some requests from students and employees, especially in the wake of those incidents: 'What was Aims doing?' and 'How were we responding?'" she said.
This summer, Aims will add 10 more emergency phones -- for a total of 13 -- on its Greeley campus, and plans to install more video monitors in buildings and parking lots.
Last fall, Aims began partnering with the Weld County Sheriff's Office for patrols. Two officers patrol Aims' Greeley, downtown and Fort Lupton campuses on weekdays, while late-night hours and weekends continue to be staffed by contracted security guards. The new measures cost $66,000 more than what Aims previously spent on security. The college has also hired a consultant to do a threat assessment.
Threat assessment teams
Another trend since Virginia Tech is the formation of threat assessment teams, made up of a cross-section of campus and community members to regularly discuss security issues, as well as identify troubled students and staff.
Virginia Tech added a group after the massacre last April, and the teams are now common on campuses, according to Mike Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a Georgia-based campus safety firm.
The strategy has been used in K-12 schools for a decade -- taking root after the Columbine tragedy -- but is now spreading to colleges, Dorn said. "There was a lot of resistance to that (in higher education) until Virginia Tech."
He said the technique has averted dozens of planned K-12 school shootings and bombings, as well as planned university shootings across the nation.
The concept of a multidisciplinary threat assessment team is simple, Dorn said. When a student, employee or other individual makes a threatening statement, a group of individuals, rather than a sole employee, administrator or police officer, carefully assesses the situation and determines a response.
The idea is to respond to find "what resources can be brought to bear to help this individual," Dorn said.
UNC in the past year expanded its threat assessment team to include faculty and staff as well as students, said Wendy Rich-Goldschmidt, UNC police chief.
Also, UNC added another full-time officer this year (14 total) and upgraded its voice-over-Internet service, which sends immediate messages to buildings across campus. Starting last August, UNC began locking all doors, including the front doors, at residence halls. Security cards are needed for access at all hours, and all visitors must check in at the front desk.
Also, the university encourages students, staff and faculty to program the UNC dispatcher number -- (970) 351-2245 -- into their cell phones, so they can instantly reach police in an emergency.
"We are looking at other kinds of technologies, with the idea being some multi-layered approach to emergency communication," said Nate Haas, UNC spokesman. "That gets at that text-messaging component."
Rich-Goldschmidt said her department constantly reviews ways to improve security beyond regular campus patrols and partnerships with other law enforcement agencies. In the past 18 months, the college has created a comprehensive emergency response team with subcommittees that work on "sight hardening" around campus.
"We're looking at how we can tighten up vulnerabilities, whether it be from a cyber threat, a physical threat and active shooter threat, or a health and safety threat," she said.
UNC has received more than a dozen bids from mass-notification system vendors, and hopes by fall to launch a text-based system. Some systems also allow instant voice mails to be left on cell phones.
The cost to start up one vendor's system is about $24,000, Rich-Goldschmidt said. "At this point we are reviewing the requests for proposals, so it will be interesting to see what kind of bang for the buck we can get."
UNC also launched in the past year a building coordinator program, she said, where each building has a point person who, in an emergency, disseminates health and safety information.
Rachel Denler and Jessica Jones are car-less UNC students who walk everywhere on campus and either walk or take the bus to their off-campus apartments.
"I've never really felt unsafe on campus here," said Denler, a sophomore. "It seems like a pretty secure place to me."
Jones, a junior, said she felt secure when she lived in the dorms; her main concern then was theft. She likes the fact that UNC has emergency phones, illuminated by blue lights, around campus.
"Knowing that's there is fine for me, because I'm a pretty fast runner," she said with a chuckle.
An article in Campus Security Magazine said the availability of mental health services has increased on many campuses since Seung-hui Cho, a troubled student who had previously mentioned suicide in an e-mail, opened fire at Virginia Tech.
-- CU is paying closer attention to referring students with unusual or possibly dangerous behavior to counseling programs, said Brad Wiesley, CU Police spokesman. Police can only refer a person to a mental hold if it is a clear situation of immediate danger, he said.
-- CSU hired a new triage coordinator position, which has been showcased at conferences. The coordinator screens all students for emotional/mental issues and those needing more immediate response.
Less recently, but in the student-screening vein, UNC's counseling center Web site posted a link that allows anonymous messages about individuals who might pose a threat on campus.
"That's a reporting system we've had for a couple years, and it's starting to take off a little more," Rich-Goldschmidt said.
She was a patrol officer at UNC when the campus experienced its most frightening security breach in September 1996. A teenager, who had killed three friends in the Durango area, drove to Greeley where his ex-girlfriend lived in a residence hall. He entered McCowen Hall and held her and two other students hostage until police shot and killed the 18-year-old.
"Technology has come a long way since that time," Rich-Goldschmidt said. "What we have available to us now vs. what we had then is night and day."
UNC responded to the 1996 incident with an immediate lock-down of all side doors in the dorms, Rich-Goldschmidt said, but students after a few days complained they wanted the freedom to go in and out.
Also at UNC, there are campus safety awareness programs -- 900 faculty and staff have taken emergency response classes in the past two years -- emergency telephones across campus, a campus police escort service, and plans for more video surveillance cameras in residence halls and parking lots.
It wasn't until fall 2004 -- a year after a female student was stabbed in a dorm room by a man who previously threatened her life; she recovered from her injuries -- that UNC began locking all side doors to residence halls.
All dorm rooms have door peep holes to allow students to see out. The new McCowen Hall being built will have the additional security of punch-in personal codes to get into rooms.
"Obviously, when you're building this building in 2008, we wanted to make sure we weren't doing what we were doing (for security) in 1996 or '98," said Tobias Guzman, executive director of auxiliary and student services.
Just as K-12 schools learned after Columbine, security is strengthened when more eyes are peeled and ears are tuned to potential threats. Now college campuses are, a year after Virginia Tech, more attuned to asking people to report anything unusual.
"We kind of tend to live in a society where people don't want to get involved," Rich-Goldschmidt said. "So I think the more opportunities we provide for people to share what they've seen is all the better."
The Associated Press and Tribune intern Brian Funk contributed to this report.
TIMELINE OF SHOOTINGS ON U.S. COLLEGE CAMPUSES
Fatal shootings that have occurred at U.S. colleges and universities over the past several decades:
Feb. 14, 2008: Five students are killed and 18 wounded when a gunman attacks a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University.
April 16, 2007: A gunman kills 32 people in a dorm and a classroom at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va.
Sept. 2, 2006: Douglas W. Pennington, 49, kills himself and his two sons, Logan P. Pennington, 26, and Benjamin M. Pennington, 24, during a visit to the campus of Shepherd University in Shepherdstown, W.Va.
Oct. 28, 2002: Failing University of Arizona Nursing College student and Gulf War veteran Robert Flores, 40, walks into an instructor's office and fatally shoots her. A few minutes later, armed with five guns, he enters one of his nursing classrooms and kills two more of his instructors before fatally shooting himself.
Jan. 16, 2002: Graduate student Peter Odighizuwa, 42, recently dismissed from Virginia's Appalachian School of Law, returns to campus and kills the dean, a professor and a student before being tackled by students. The attack also wounds three female students.
Aug. 28, 2000: James Easton Kelly, 36, a University of Arkansas graduate student recently dropped from a doctoral program after a decade of study, and John Locke, 67, the English professor overseeing his coursework, are shot to death in an apparent murder-suicide.
Aug. 15, 1996: Frederick Martin Davidson, 36, a graduate engineering student at San Diego State, is defending his thesis before a faculty committee when he pulls out a handgun and kills three professors.
Nov. 1, 1991: Gang Lu, 28, a graduate student in physics from China, reportedly upset because he was passed over for an academic honor, opens fire in two buildings on the University of Iowa campus. Five University of Iowa employees are killed, including four members of the Physics Department; two other people are wounded. The student fatally shoots himself.
Aug. 1, 1966: Charles Whitman points a rifle from the observation deck of the University of Texas at Austin's Tower and begins shooting in a homicidal rampage that goes on for 96 minutes. Sixteen people are killed, including his wife and mother, who were shot the night before; 31 others are wounded.