Va. Tech Shooting Leaves Md. Colleges Reevaluating Security Measures - Southern Maryland Headline News

Va. Tech Shooting Leaves Md. Colleges Reevaluating Security Measures

By SCOTT SHEWFELT, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON - Maryland's higher education institutions are waiting for more details about the Virginia Tech shooting that left 33 dead Monday before reviewing their security measures, but vowed changes if needed.

On Monday, a student identified as Cho Seung-hui, 23, killed two in an early morning shooting in a dormitory at the Blacksburg, Va., campus and then two hours later opened fire in a lecture hall and classrooms before committing suicide. In total, 33 died and dozens were wounded, in the deadliest shooting in U.S. history.

All schools have plans in place for catastrophes, said Deb Moriarty, vice president of student affairs at Towson University.

"Everything looks good on paper until you're in the middle of a crisis," Moriarty said. "It all comes down to a human judgment call."

Monday's shooting began shortly after 7 a.m. when two people were found murdered in a dormitory. However, the university administration did not send an e-mail warning to students until 9:26 a.m., the Associated Press reported.

By that time, the shootings in Norris Hall had begun.

"Communication is always a problem," Salisbury University Police Chief Ed Lashley said, adding a plan can be great, but with poor communication it will always have a weak link.

"Every university will take this somber opportunity to learn from any mistakes and incorporate positives into their own plans," Lashley said.

The Salisbury University Police have been working closely with local sheriff's departments to perfect an active-shooter plan and hope to have an on-campus test in the coming weeks, Lashley said.

Salisbury also has a hostile-intruder policy, addressing hostage situations in both resident and non-resident halls, he said. Under this plan, the police are the first responders and identify the magnitude of the situation.

A shooting would generally lead to a "category-three" situation, meaning a communications command center would be set up, the university would be locked down and students moved where necessary, he said.

The Virginia Tech campus of more than 25,000 full-time students is no stranger to lockdowns. In August 2006, there was a manhunt for an escaped inmate that led to a campus shutdown and sent students to their dorms.

On Monday however, the campus was not locked down following notification of the two shootings in the dormitory.

"We don't know what happened at Virginia Tech," said Cathy Atwell spokeswoman for the University of Maryland, College Park, Department of Public Safety, "there are no lessons learned."

Maryland's emergency plan includes mass e-mail and voice mail notification and warning sirens. The police also have the ability to lock all buildings from a central location if need be.

The full emergency plan is posted on the University's Web site, but Atwell said nothing will be discussed as far as changes go until all the information becomes known.

Schools don't want to "create a prison fortress," Moriarty said. They need to rely on good policy, prevention efforts and hope.

Towson's campus emergency plan involves the coordination of dozens of units, which are currently reviewing their protocol individually. They will all meet later this week once more information becomes known, Moriarty said.

Likewise, Steve Simon of Montgomery College said, "this is a difficult situation to immediately evaluate and break down."

Montgomery College is the second-largest undergraduate enrollment institution in the state and has campuses throughout the county, said spokesman Simon.

"It is a different environment than Virginia Tech," Simon said noting the lack of on-campus housing and large numbers of commuters.

The college has a campus response team, but they also work with the county's emergency management team because of the separated locations.

Their emergency plan is periodically revised and is often event-driven, Simon said. The events of Sept. 11, 2001 led to major revisions in the college's emergency plans, which are broken down using a color-coded threat system.

This emergency plan has been moved to a more prominent location on their Web site, Simon said, but as far as protocol changes, it is too soon.

The size and layout of a campus is a huge factor in designing emergency preparedness plans.

At the Cumberland campus of the Allegany College of Maryland, Shauna McQuade, director of public relations, said its small size and location have helped the college avoid catastrophes. The campus is, however, working on finalizing a security plan and has hired a security coordinator.

"We're taking security issues much more serious than before," she said, "and not just because of yesterday, because of the world."

Memorial Service for Virginia Tech Victims This Friday at SMCM

Sponsored by St. Mary’s College, Trinity Episcopal Church, and Historic St. Mary's City (HSMC)

There will be a memorial service for the victims at Virginia Tech this Friday, April 20th at 4:00 pm in the Garden of Remembrance on the grounds of St. Mary’s College of Maryland. The garden is adjacent to Kent Hall on Trinity Church Lane. The event is an effort to show support for Virginia Tech alumni and families that live in Southern Maryland. Sponsored by St. Mary’s College of Maryland, Trinity Episcopal Church and Historic St. Mary’s City, the service will be led by Father John Ball. The public is invited as well as all Virginia Tech alumni in the area.

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