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US Campuses Assess Security in Wake of Shootings

In the wake of the April 16th shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg, Virginia, Governor Tom Kaine announced he is appointing an independent panel of law enforcement experts to evaluate whether school officials reacted appropriately to the murder spree, in which 33 people, including the shooter, died. The Governor said the request to create a panel came from the university's president. Campus security officials across the United States are interested in what that report will say, and what it could mean for their schools.

Like most colleges and universities in the United States, Arizona State has its own police force on campus, and cooperates with law enforcement departments in the surrounding communities. "Here at ASU, our police officers are fully trained to address any emergency situation, whether that's a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, or a violent crime," says ASU Security department spokesperson Leah Hardesty. "We have the proper plans and procedures in place to be able to address it.

Hardesty says campus security officers educate students about safety procedures, and there are physical security measures in place at residence halls and classroom buildings. ASU graduate student Mike McConnell says campus security is good. "I've been here about 5 years now, and I've seen this campus get safer over the last 5 years I've been here," he says.

Student involvement is an important element of campus security, according to Sergeant Jason Whitney, with the University of Wisconsin-Madison police department. "From the first day they come on campus in their student orientation, the police department is there, explaining to them safety and their role in this community," he says. "It's kind of a transition for them from high school into college. Now they've kind of become responsible for themselves and they need to be responsible for their community."

Whitney says that includes students' friends and roommates, and the school tries to make sure they have the information they need to help. "If they see somebody that's having difficulty, or know of somebody that's in a relationship that's having trouble, [we] make sure that the resources are there so they can get the help that's necessary so the person doesn't snap (suffer a possibly violent mental breakdown)."

He admits that preventing an incident like the murderous rampage at Virginia Tech is difficult, if not impossible. Security officials agree the best they can do is have a plan in place, and learn from other incidents.

At Arizona State, Leah Hardesty says the security department will review its emergency response plan after the Virginia Tech report is issued, and decide if they need to make modifications.

"Obviously, we'll take a look at emergency response, what are the first steps that ASU police should take immediately," Hardesty says. "Then we'll take a look at notification to students and staff and faculty. Our plan addresses several different things, from medical care, to counseling and consultation to communication, so we'll take a look at all of those."

ASU is offering counseling to students who want to talk about what happened at Virginia Tech, whether they knew any of the students who were killed or not, and the student government organized a candlelight vigil [Thursday night] for the victims.

At Temple University, in one of Philadelphia's high-crime neighborhoods, students have been following the developments in Blacksburg, but say they feel safe.

"You just have to keep going. You have to keep going to class, you have do your work," says one. "We're here to learn and that's what we have to do, I mean we can't be always afraid in the place that we consume our knowledge."

"Temple's got the fourth biggest police force in the state so, I mean, they're pretty well prepared for whatever comes their way," the other says, adding, "you can't prevent everything. You can only try to prevent it. And I think they're doing a pretty good job at doing that."

Lawmakers in several states have announced plans to set up task forces to review campus security, and safety advocates are offering suggestions for improved campus alert systems, from public-address loudspeakers to mass mailings of cell-phone text messages, in emergency situations.