Could more lives have been saved at Virginia Tech?

I’m going to try and do this without looking like a vulture – I hate those who profiteer off the misfortunes of others and don’t want to be guilty of that crime myself – so let me begin with full disclosure. I’m a principal in a mobility consulting firm that offers the kinds of services I’m going to describe below. This makes me an informed observer, but it also makes me someone who might benefit financially from what I’m proposing. Take this for what it’s worth.

First, when things began unfolding in Blacksburg yesterday morning, the university notified its students via e-mail. There are a lot of problems with the response, starting with this: college students don’t use e-mail, at least not any more than they have to. (More…)

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20 comments

  1. I saw an interview with one of the first responders and they were called first because there was a report or 2 people who fell off their balcony’s. It wasn’t until they arrived that they found that there was gun shot wounds. I don’t know what the time was between when they knew it was a gun shot and when the gunman opened up on others, but I think it may be less then the 2 hours they’re reporting. I’m sure the killer was gone for over 2 hours, but it may have been unclear what was going between the time when they found the gunshot wounds and gathered any evidence. For all they knew it could have been murder/suicide. Who knows maybe the gunman kept threw a weapon down at the scene; again we don’t know all the facts. The first thing these responders do is try and recessitate, which one of the meds said they were doing because at the moment they were still alive. It could have taken quite some time for the police to put together anything accurate since the initial reports was that it was an accident. Of course the lack of info coming from the police leave me to believe that they may have f’d up and they know it. I think we’ll have to wait to hear a detailed time line.
    I’m 100% positive that 100% of police, people, rational thinkers, rabbits, one celled organisms, and every other living thing would have thought this was an isolated incident. Remember when 9/11 happened they thought it was an accident at first. When someone got shot down the street from me they didn’t close off the street thinking that there was a murder on the loose. I don’t think that police profiling has ever seen a case where someone kills 2 people then 2 hours later kills a bunch of other people. I’m sure it’s happened but usually it’s domestic. (ie guys kills wife, then drives to boyfriends house an hour away) Unfortunately this will have to be a lesson learned.
    In NY there’s a free service for Amber alerts. It will text you when there is one in your area. I think that this should be offered statewide for any crimes, natural disasters, and weather. It would be like an emergency broadcast system for your cell phones, only you won’t get pissed when you miss a punch line. In schools it could be utilized to let kids know if you class cancelled so they don’t have to commute when find out their prof ditched, or there’s a snow day.
    Maybe it would have stopped people from going to school, but chances are it wouldn’t. It’s what I call the alarm theory. When car alarm or fire alarm goes off we just sit there until someone says it’s not a test. When’s the last time you got of your ass when a car alarm went off? Even if the text said “all class is cancelled until further notice,” there would still be people hanging around. Who’s to say they wouldn’t have let kids back after 2 hours. We get bomb threats all the time at work and basically all we do is stand outside (near the building) for an hour till the cops say it’s ok. This guy had plenty of opportunities with or without a text service.
    In the future I’m sure that school will close for the littlest reason to over compensate for what happened yesterday, and although I like the idea of texting, I’m pretty sure an incident like this will happen again, but by the time it happens the worst will have been done. I’m sure we’ll see a bunch of copycats sometime soon.
    This means we have to focus on prevention which opens up a whole new can of worms
    Dems want to take away our guns
    The Cons want to take away our liberties
    The Dems want to let foreigners in the country
    The Cons are acting like big brother
    Etc, etc, etc
    Just think if Imus would have said what he said this week, he’d still have a job.

  2. There’s always going to be a time lag between the first instance and the point where those in charge realize something bad is happening, and I wouldn’t suggest that mobile offers a solution to that. But there came a time when sober officials knew they had a problem, and that’s when the alerts have to go out.
    Statewide alerts – probably a pretty decent idea.

  3. Yes, there has to be a more effective warning method. But … I’m very sure I’m not the only college professor that starts the semester by asking student to turn off their cell phones during class. I also ask them to keep the phones out of sight, and point out that I have in fact heard of text messaging. Most students appear to honor that request.
    So if you send the message via text/cell, does that leave me with the choice between allowing students to keep their cell phones on/visible during class (with the guarantee that some will succumb to the temptation to ignore class) or preventing them from getting an emergency message should one be sent? Is there a middle ground I’m missing here?

  4. This is a good question. If the phones are off, the messages won’t get through.
    However, the easy answer is that while their phones have to be off, yours can stay on. Something happens, there’s a lifeline into every classroom that way.

  5. And mine then becomes the one that disrupts class without an emergency? I’ve mostly been able to leave mine on because few people know the number — if it were more widely known, I would turn it off before class to avoid the common problem (my phone ringing in class) at the risk of missing the uncommon problem (the emergency).
    I know — I’m sounding contrary. But it’s partly that I legitimately don’t know how to balance those two things. (Notice I’m not even bringing up a third — there are still people, even students, without cell phones.) It’s also that this is at some point a problem that will have to be solved to do that type of alert system.

  6. I hear you – I always turned mine off when teaching. But if this system was in place, I’d find a way to balance things. I don’t want to be an alarmist and I don’t think tech solves all our problems, but our reality isn’t what it once was.

  7. I just happend to find this on cnn.com
    “As questions continued to arise about how police reacted to the first shooting at the dorm, university President Charles Steger on Tuesday defended the response, saying police believed it to be “a domestic fight, perhaps a murder-suicide” that was contained to one dorm room. ”
    http://www.cnn.com/2007/US/04/17/vtech.shooting/index.html
    Reuters reports this,
    “Some 236 groups related to Virginia Tech have been set up on Facebook, a sign that Internet social networks are beginning to replace e-mail and cell phones as the preferred method for spreading information quickly among younger generations.”
    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18158063/
    I don’t agree that facebook and myspace are replacing cell’s, but I do think that more people check their messages on myspace before they check their e-mail. I know a lot of people who do this. I don’t think that this is a better alternative then a “warning cell message”, but it’s another service that these online commuinties could use for warnings. However in a few years these services will get bombarded with spam (myspace already is) and then it will be on to a different service, but the theorys still the same, maximun info in every possible medium as fast as possible.
    And as far as turning off cell phones, I always keep mine on vibrate, and i’m sure there’s a 99% chance that someone in class would have theirs on. It only takes one person in class to spread the word.
    Not that your classes weren’t interesting, but sometimes you just gotta know the score of a game, or where people are drinking that night.

  8. More global. Hurricane/Tornado/Storm warnings before the sirens need to go off.
    Gas leaks. Earthquake information. And more local. If you can limit it to the 3000 people in a classroom or building, you won’t cause 30,000 person school-wide panic. Or to the 24th floor in a 50 story building.
    I’m not saying a megaphone wouldn’t be useful. And I wondered about the PA system myself. Hell, maybe someone could have pulled a fire alarm, I don’t know. But do you think ducking your head out the door to hear what all the screaming was about would have helped? Cell phones and text messages would allow more detained information transfer and it wouldn’t depend on being within hearing distance when someone is shooting up a place. And, nowadays, everyone has one.

  9. After talking to some of the students here at my university, they all say that they don’t even turn off their phones in class. They just leave it on vibrate. I suspect that’s true on all campuses. I do the same with my pager. I suspect a lot of MDs around here do, too, although we still hear pagers go off like crazy during every meeting that involves the hospital.

  10. I’m 100% positive that 100% of police, people, rational thinkers, rabbits, one celled organisms, and every other living thing would have thought this was an isolated incident.

    And yet, many people seem to believe that the police and the University should have run around flailing their arms in the air, if their comments are any indication. The police responded to the initial incident as isolated, and responded, evidently, in a measured, rational fashion.
    I especially love the news outlets jumping to conclusion. Until today, there was no ballistic evidence linking the first two murders to the mass-murders that followed later. Even now, on the way home, the chief of the local police urged people not link the perpetrator of the first incident with the South Korean who killed nearly 30 people later on. Of course, in the absence of any concrete information, speculation runs riot. Or to quote Carl Sagan, “Observation: we can’t see a thing. Conclusion: Dinosaurs.”

  11. I just saw on the news today that the police already had someone in custody for the first 2 murders and they were in the process of getting a warrant. Guess the suspect was one of their boyfriends.
    I also saw on MSNBC some first class reporting. They had a former suite mate of the killer on the phone and they asked him some of the greatest questions i’ve ever heard.
    Q: Did the suspect listen to any hard rock music or angry music?
    A: Uhhhhh no.
    Q: What kind of Cd’s did he have?
    A: Uhhhhh None.
    obviously trying to tie the murders to Marylin Manson again.
    that’s not it, there’s more………..
    The next two questions were asked while they showed pictures of the dorm room door where he lived. On the door was the standard room number and a construction paper, cut out, in the shape of a fish with “john + Cho” written on it. Basically the standard welcome to VT we put your name on your door so people know who you are kind of thing. Or was it? Thank God MSNBC had a real sleuth on the case otherwise we wouldn’t have figured out what these cryptic messages were.
    Here’s the last two questions.
    Q: what is the signifance of that number on the door?
    A: Uhhhhhhh that’s just the dorm room number.
    Q: What does that fish symbolize?
    A: Uhhhhh that’s just something they put up for students who move in so they know who everyone is.
    I’m kinda shocked the roommate didn’t just start laughing. I’m really beginning to believe that 24 hour news is sort of like expansion in sports, the talent pool really running dry. I really miss the days when Imus was in the news and MSNBC reported on why MSNBC fired Imus, during the time slot when Imus was on.
    I know this is the most important story right now, but these news outlets are really grasping. I just can’t wait for the greatest debate that everyone knows is coming. It will come right after the hand gun argument, the video game argument, and music argument. That argument is (does the news show too much violence) The single greatest thing I love in news, is when news reports on what news should report on. Meanwhile showing the same graphics and images over and over again while they debate whether or not it’s appropriate to show those images. Priceless.

  12. I might be amazed at the public and the media picking up on it, but I wouldn’t be at all amazed that institutions would pick up on it so quickly. How may legal departments across the country right now, local, state, fed, are screaming, “omgwtf, liability! mitigate! mitigate!”? And there you are, poised to ride a crest of sudden awareness :>

  13. Half the time I didn’t even bring my cell phone to classes with me. I still frequently go places without my cell phone.
    There was a few bomb threats at colleges across the country this week, including one at the U of MN. They closed eight buildings, I believe.
    Had something similar to the Virginia Tech shootings happened at the U of MN, I think that word would somehow get around that there was a guy on campus with a gun and for students to be aware. Wasn’t there anyone else around in the dorms at Virginia Tech who saw this kid with a gun? It is disturbing that there was a two-hour lag during which no other students heard about the dorm shooting.

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