After the Virginia Tech Shootings, Is Security Better?
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
This is DAY TO DAY from NPR News. I'm Madeleine Brand.
As students head back to class today at Virginia Tech, they'll find tougher campus security measures in the wake of April's shooting rampage.
And as NPR's Celeste Headlee reports, students across the country are also seeing tougher security.
CELESTE HEADLEE: Jenina Mouton(ph) is studying school administration at Wayne State University in Detroit. She says she was afraid when she watched the Virginia Tech shootings on television, and she needs to know her school is prepared.
Ms. JENINA MOUTON (Student, Wayne State University): We need to be able to walk through this campus and feel like we have some support from them. And I think they do have an obligation. I think that university security should be well-trained and well-equipped for even the worst.
HEADLEE: And in fact, Wayne State has invested thousands of dollars in training and equipment since April. Police Chief Anthony Holt says this campus was already one of the safest in the state, but he didn't feel he was adequately prepared to deal with the so-called active shooter roaming through campus buildings.
Mr. ANTHONY HOLT (Police Chief, Wayne State University): This is sort of like a 9/11 incident. It sort of wakes you up and puts you on your toes. You know, instead of having training once a quarter, or once a year, or respond to active shooters as well, we need to set aside a training day every week.
HEADLEE: Holt has since purchased Smith and Wesson assault rifles that can fire with incredible accuracy for more than 100 yards. He bought body armor that can stop a 308-caliber bullet, and all of his officers are now trained to take down a shooter immediately without calling for backup.
Mr. HOLT: You have to have officers trained who can immediately go in and respond to that situation.
HEADLEE: In August, Wayne State will hold an active shooter simulation with more than 60 students inside the building, some pretending to be wounded. An employee will pretend to be a gun-wielding killer.
Frostburg State University in Maryland held a similar event in July. President Jonathan Gibralter says his school reevaluated its entire security system after the shootings in April.
Mr. JONATHAN GIBRALTER (President, Frostburg State University): Honestly, just like Virginia Tech, up until that point we thought ourselves to be completely safe and not needing to worry about that level of campus safety and security.
HEADLEE: Frostburg is now installing sirens around campus and key card swipes on all residence hall doors. And the school now has two notification systems that can send alerts by e-mail or by cell phone. In fact, many universities have invested in text message systems.
But Richard Frost of Hope College in Michigan says that's not a foolproof solution.
Dr. RICHARD FROST (Dean of Students and Vice President, Hope College): In the Virginia Tech situation, because the volume of texting that took place, it went down. And so what we're looking at is two systems now, of some kind of a loudspeaker system, but we're also looking at the different kinds of digital displays.
HEADLEE: And Cece Peddie(ph) of Loyola University in New Orleans says schools need several methods of communicating with students.
Ms. CECE PEDDIE (Loyola University): I mean most faculty members don't allow cell phones in the classroom. And so I think the tragedy just broke open the discussion in safety in general.
HEADLEE: And experts say those discussions have led to real change. Allison Kiss is the program director for the nonprofit watchdog group Security on Campus.
Ms. ALLISON KISS (Program Director, Security on Campus): A lot of students, a lot of faculty are actually making new crisis management plans since many schools have a plan but maybe it's been tucked away in the drawer and no one's looked at it for the past few years.
Diane Brown of the University of Michigan says new technology is good, but it's not a comprehensive answer to security concerns.
Ms. DIANE BROWN (Information Officer, University of Michigan): We as a public need to remind ourselves of the systems that already are in place rather than continuing to question what isn't in place.
Right prior to the unfortunate incidence in April we had had a small fire, and students were inside the building. It was in the evening, and they heard the fire alarms go off. And in fact, some of them even said they smelled smoke. But they weren't going to leave until somebody came along and told them to.
HEADLEE: Jonathan Gibralter of Frostburg State University says no school can prevent a tragedy like the one at Virginia Tech.
Mr. GIBRALTER: It's almost impossible for us to look any parent in the face and say that we can absolutely, positively assure that their child is going to be safe, absolutely safe, on a university campus.
HEADLEE: Universities are responsible for creating safe environments, Gibralter says, but it's also important that students take basic precautions and look out for themselves.
Celeste Headlee, NPR News, Detroit.