When an incident like the recent Virginia Tech shooting spree occurs, it is difficult not to comment. There are always lessons to be learned. With the permission of "His Editor-ship," I would like to at least touch on a few of the thoughts that came to my mind, as both the crime and the coverage unfolded. The fact that the blame for this horrendous incident lies squarely on the shoulders of the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, seems to have escaped many. Like any such incident, there were points in time that intervention by others could have changed the outcome, but the killing and wounding of innocent people at Virginia Tech was the responsibility of just one person. But, we are in the business of dealing with such people, so we get the misdirected anger. I was still appalled, however, by both the questions (accusations, actually, put in the form of questions) and the "expert" analysis by many of the media representatives. They were desperately trying to find fault, fix blame and sensationalize this incident, well before the facts were even known. Herewith are a few paraphrased questions and my responses.
Why didn't the police/university advise the students sooner after the first shootings?
The media loved this one. After all, they're in the business of informing people about important events. One little problem though: what do you tell people and what do they do after you've informed them? Suppose the university put out immediate information that the first shooting had occurred. At that point, it was just "news." There was no indication that there would be any other danger, nor was there any idea that Cho was the guy they were looking for. So what did they expect the students to do? And, if the information was meant as a warning, again I ask: what were the students expected to do? If the students have been effectively trained in how to respond when they are advised that a potential threat exists, all is well. If not, then the message would have to contain detailed instructions. Stay home? Go back home? What if "home" is on the campus? Continue to your next classroom location? Gather at certain locations? Avoid certain areas/buildings? What about people that don't get the warnings? We see this all the time in other types of emergencies. Warnings are effective only if those being warned know what to do once they've received the warnings. Otherwise, chaos usually ensues, along with the inevitable fault finding and finger pointing. Have the students at VT been given such training? As far as the media is concerned, informing people seems to be the be-all and end-all. They exist for "informing." Anyone who actually has to cope with emergencies, however, understands that informing is only one part of a very complex problem.
How should the warnings be given?
Cell phones? I wonder what the capacity of the cell phone systems in the area of VT might be? Most of the places I've been, the cell phone systems get overwhelmed soon after a major incident, simply because people won't stay off of them with their non-emergency calls. E-mails?
A number of the students interviewed said that they didn't check their e-mails that morning. They were in a hurry to get to class. A campus-wide PA system? Possible, but I don't think anyone could have sold that to the University's budget committee. At least, not prior to April 16th. Perhaps the old "Town Crier" system? Can you just imagine the campus grapevine getting hold of something like this?
Why wasn't the campus locked down immediately?