The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday February 8th

Safety officials eye Va. Tech case

CORRECTION: Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this article incorrectly identified the committee that is is developing desktop Alert Carolina messages. The committees developing this are the Executive Branch Public Safety Committee and the Executive Branch Tech & Web Committee. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

After years of legal battles, a court has ruled that Virginia Tech University was not negligent in the 2007 shooting that claimed 32 lives and sparked campus safety change nationwide — including UNC’s Alert Carolina system.

But some safety groups are concerned that the Virginia Supreme Court ruling could open a window for more lax security measures on campuses.

The lawsuit against Virginia Tech was filed by the families of two students killed in the 2007 massacre, alleging that university officials were negligent and slow to issue a campus warning about the shooting.

UNC administrators say while campus safety measures will likely not be affected by the ruling, Alert Carolina is continuing to change and faces challenges and criticism.

Winston Crisp, vice chancellor for student affairs, said the process of trying to maintain a safe campus is one that’s ongoing.

“Aside from the human tragedy, the massacre provided a launching point for people’s expectations for campus safety,” he said. “We tweak things as we gain experience.”

Crisp said one ongoing issue is how Alert Carolina competes with emergency reporting on social media. He said people have the ability to post videos and pictures of emergencies immediately without including the facts or full perspective.

“There’s more and more pressure on us to be swift to avoid people relying on information that’s not very reliable. The challenge is, often it takes time to get the right information,” Crisp said.

The UNC safety system and others across the nation underwent significant changes directly after the shooting, such as the development of Alert Carolina in 2008, said Director of Public Safety Jeff McCracken.

The University hired an emergency management coordinator, instituted an outdoor siren system, emergency exercises and a more effective emergency notification system in the aftermath of the shootings, McCracken said.

Randy Young, spokesman for UNC’s Department of Public Safety, said the ruling doesn’t have many implications on campus.

He said every university has a different population and different resources to deal with, and much has changed in the way of campus safety since the Virginia Tech shootings.

But as campus safety industry standards and technology advance, McCracken said the system will continue to change.

Tyler Jacon, chairman of the safety and security committee for Student Congress, said he and administrators want to have as many avenues as possible to communicate vital information.

The committee is working with Alert Carolina to add an alert notification system to campus televisions and computers, Jacon said. If implemented, notifications about threats to campus safety would pop up on campus computers and televisions in residence halls and other buildings across campus.

He said there’s also a discussion of creating a placeholder notification, which would provide students with broad information that would ensure safety in situations where all the details cannot be disclosed or is unavailable

“It would be used very rarely,” Jacon said. “But it has the benefit of alerting students faster.”

Daniel Carter, director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative with the VTV Family Outreach Foundation — an organization founded by survivors of the Virginia Tech shooting, said he is impressed with the way things have improved since the 2007 massacre.

“Students, employees and families have a clear expectation that there will be a much faster alert issued,” Carter said.

“Campus safety has come a long way because of the lessons learned from the April 16, 2007 shootings, and there’s no turning back from that.”

university@dailytarheel.com

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