Town hall meeting covers progress on university initiatives following April 16 tragedy

BLACKSBURG, Va., March 19, 2008 – From launching an emergency alert system to installing locks that allow classrooms to be secured from the inside to hiring additional police officers, Virginia Tech has implemented many of the security improvements deemed most critical in the wake of the April 16 shootings, university President Charles W. Steger said today.

Speaking to members of the university community in the Squires Student Center, Steger said he wanted to update the university community on how the myriad recommendations made by four review panels created after the shootings are being addressed.

“Of the major initiatives, all have been thoroughly reviewed and most have seen substantial progress towards completion,” said Steger after the event.

Steger told the crowd that he was also there asking for input on some recommendations for which the decision whether or not to implement has not been made.

“If people do not support what we are trying to do, it will not be successful,” Steger said.

Recommendations that are under consideration, but for which an implementation decision has not been made, include monitoring some areas of campus with closed circuit security cameras, adding a card key access control system to some academic and administrative buildings, and installing electronic displays in classrooms so that alerts could be broadcast there.

The last initiative could address the potential problem of how to alert classrooms when there is a crisis, since it is common for professors to require that cell phones be turned off in class, Steger said.

In all, the university received about 400 recommendations from review panels formed after the shootings. University officials have grouped those recommendations into 33 initiatives (listed below). A more detailed update on how each of those initiatives is being addressed will be posted on the Office of the President website in the near future.

After getting recommendations from the external review panel appointed by Gov. Tim Kaine at Steger’s request, and the three internal review groups that he established himself, Steger appointed two committees, made up of faculty members, staff and students, to review the numerous recommendations and give their own input.

Eventually, senior university officials prioritized 17 initiatives deemed to merit the most immediate action. Many of those initiatives have already been substantially implemented. Highlights of what has been done include:

Steger said that as of three weeks ago the university had spent $10.4 million "dealing with the tragedy of April 16, and we will spend millions in addition to that."

Meanwhile, he said, the university must account for a $15 million cut in state funding, so some tough decisions on how to spend money will have to be made.

For example, he said, money for security cameras could otherwise be used to add professors, so spending on public safety measures should be done with that in mind.

“We want to make sure the investments we make add value to safety and security,” he said.

Among the several students and faculty members who spoke at the town hall meeting was Susanna Rinehart, associate professor of theatre arts and assistant provost of liberal education. She said it was important that students, staff and faculty, whose daily lives stand to be affected by new safety initiatives, be included in the decision making process through events like today's.

“I think it’s very valuable,” she said after the event. “I really do.”

The 400 recommendations presented to university officials were grouped into 33 large categories, or initiatives, which are listed below.