Lessons Learned and Key Recommendations from the Virginia Tech Tragedy

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1 Lessons Learned and Key Recommendations from the Virginia Tech Tragedy

2 University Setting Virginia Tech is a sprawling campus in rural Blacksburg, Va. Campus population: 35,000 students 131 buildings 5 full-time officers patrolled the campus & 9 additional officers in offices The only alert systems in place were rudimentary phone trees and

3 First Incident 7:15 AM April 16, :47AM Seung-Hui Cho spotted outside West Ambler Johnston Hall (WAJ). 7:02AM Emily Hilscher dropped off by boyfriend at WAJ. 7:15 Cho entered WAJ Hall dormitory room 4040 and shot 19 year old student Emily Hilscher. R/A Ryan Clark went to investigate loud noises and was also fatally shot.

4 West Ambler Hall 7:15 AM Harper Hall

5

6 First Incident Cho left the building leaving bloody foot prints. 7:17 a.m. Cho s access card swiped at Harper Hall where he changes out of his bloody clothes. 7:20 a.m. VTPD receives call that a female student may have fallen from her loft bed. 7:24 a.m. VTPD officer arrives at room 4040 to find two people shot inside the room.

7 First Incident continued 7:30-8:00 a.m. Based on preliminary interview with Hilscher s friend, police concluded it was a domestic incident and the prime suspect was her boyfriend who had left the campus. 7:51 a.m. VTPD notifies Exec. V.P. which triggers meeting of university Policy Group 8:25 a.m. VT Policy Group meets to plan how to notify students of the homicides 9:26 a.m. Warning message sent via to campus staff, faulty and students about the dorm shooting.

8 Virginia Tech Campus

9 Second Incident-Norris Hall While police investigated the double homicide, Cho mails a package from the Blacksburg Post Office to NBC News. 9:15 a.m. - 9:30 a.m. Cho seen outside Norris Hall. He chains the doors shut on three main entrances. On one door he places a note warning the door is connected to a bomb.

10 Norris Hall Note 4/16/07 Written by Cho Peter Marone, Director Va. Dept of Forensic Science

11 Second Incident 9:40 a.m. - Cho begins shooting in classrooms on second floor. 9:45 a.m. First police officers arrive within 3 minutes of receipt of call. Attempts to enter the chained doors failed. 9:50 a.m. Police shoot open an ordinary lock on a fourth entrance not chained and go to the second floor. 9:51 a.m. Cho shoots himself in the head just as police reach the second floor

12 Second Incident Cho s shooting spree lasted about 11 minutes. The massacre continued for 9 minutes after the first call. He fired 174 rounds, killed 30 people in Norris Hall plus himself and wounded 17. Police found 17 empty magazines each capable of holding live cartridges (122 for the Glock pistol and 81 for the Walther pistol).

13 University Plan and Security Key Findings: The Emergency Plan was deficient No threat assessment team No provision for an active shooter scenario No critical incident command level authority for campus police in decision making hierarchy Crisis Communication Plan Emergency message protocol was cumbersome, untimely, and problematic An all campus population alert is critical when there is imminent danger

14 University Setting and Security Key Findings: No active shooter response training or procedures for faculty/staff/students No classrooms could be locked from inside The Emergency Response Plan did not reflect the primary role of campus police as law enforcement

15 University Setting and Security Emergency Planning- Lessons Learned Check exterior door hardware to ensure that they are not subject to being chained shut. Classrooms and offices should be able to be locked from the inside. Take bomb threats seriously. Students and staff should report them immediately, even if most do turn out to be false alarms.

16 University Setting and Security Emergency Planning Recommendations Universities should do a risk analysis (threat assessment) and then choose a level of security appropriate for their campus. Institutions of higher learning should have a threat assessment team that includes representatives from: law enforcement; human resources; student and academic affairs; legal counsel; and mental health services.

17 University Setting and Security Emergency Planning Recommendations Students, faculty, and staff should be trained annually about responding to various emergencies and about the notification systems that will be used. Universities and colleges must comply with the Clery Act, which requires timely public warnings of imminent danger.

18 University Setting and Security Campus Alerting Recommendations Campus emergency communications systems must have multiple means of sharing information. In an emergency, immediate messages must be sent to the campus community that provide clear information on the nature of the emergency and actions to be taken. Campus police as well as administration officials should have the authority and capability to send an emergency message.

19 University Setting and Security Police Role & Training Recommendations The head of campus police should be a member of a threat assessment team as well as the emergency response team for the university. Campus police must report directly to the senior operations officer responsible for emergency decision making. The mission statement of campus police should give primacy to their law enforcement and crime prevention role.

20 Law Enforcement Lessons Learned Campus police everywhere should train with local law enforcement agencies on response to active shooters and other emergencies. Police should escort survivors out of buildings, where circumstances and manpower permit.

21 Campus Mental Health Services Recommendations Universities should promote the sharing of student information internally, and with the student s family, when significant circumstances pertaining to health and safety arise. Incidents of aberrant, dangerous, or threatening behavior must be documented and reported immediately to a college s threat assessment group, and must be acted upon in a prompt and effective manner to protect the safety of the campus community.

22 Campus Mental Health Services Recommendations Colleges and Universities must have a system that links troubled students to : appropriate medical and counseling services; either on or off campus; and balance individual s rights with rights of all others for safety.

23 Campus Mental Health Services Recommendations Policies and procedures should be implemented to require professors and staff encountering aberrant, dangerous, or threatening behavior from a student to report them to the Dean. Reporting requirements must be clearly established and reviewed during annual training.

24 Campus Emergency Management Lessons Learned A Unified Command Post should have been established. A Unified Command Post should have been staffed by those having statutory authority. In this incident, law enforcement would have been the lead agency. The Unified Command should communicate directly with EOC and policymaking group.

25 Campus Emergency Management Lessons Learned Failure to open an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) led to communications and coordination issues during the incident. The EOC is usually located at a predesignated site that can be quickly activated having 2 main goals: Support emergency responders Ensure continuity of operations within campus community

26 Campus Emergency Management Lessons Learned The EOC should NOT function as the incident commander. The policy making group should function within the EOC. A Joint Information Center should be established within the EOC to coordinate all public information.

27 Campus Emergency Management Response Recommendations A unified command post should be established and operated based on the NIMS Incident Command System model. An Emergency Operations Center must be activated during a mass casualty incident.

28 Campus Emergency Management Recovery Recommendations Recovery plans should include a section on victim services that addresses the significant impact of homicide and other disasterrelated deaths on: - survivors; and - the role of victim service providers. When a family assistance center is created after a mass casualty event, victim advocates should be called in immediately.

29 Campus Emergency Management Recovery Recommendations Both short- and long-term counseling should be made available to first responders, students, staff, faculty members, and university leaders. Universities and colleges should work with their local government partners to improve plans for mutual aid in all areas of crisis response, including that of victim services.

30 Source: Mass Shooting at Virginia Tech April 16, 2007 Report of the Virginia Tech Review Panel Presented by Ron Ellis, Director School & Campus Security Training Program Illinois Terrorism Task Force

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