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Shooting rampage is a wake-up call to rethink campus security

Colleges across the United States are being forced to think about their own campus security after Monday's deadly shooting rampage at Virginia Tech.

Just how secure is the campus?

And how secure should it be?

"This is an age-old debate in higher education," said Dennis R. Black, vice president for student affairs at the University at Buffalo.

While the residence halls at UB remain locked -- accessed with a proper swipe card by the student residents -- classrooms, libraries and other facilities generally remain open to the public, Black said.

UB, like other campuses, is meant to be a place where ideas can be freely exchanged and higher learning is accessible, he said.

But the Virginia Tech shootings that killed 33 people -- the deadliest campus shooting rampage in U.S. history -- serve as a tragic and chilling wake-up call for schools to revisit campus security measures and emergency response plans.

"I think you have to," Black said.

At Virginia Tech, for example, students said that there were no public-address announcements on campus about the first round of gunfire.

Others said the university sent out an e-mail, but it was two hours into the rampage, around the time the gunman attacked again at a second location.

"I would imagine all schools will once again review their crisis-response policies," said Donna Levin, a professor of psychology at Hilbert College who has studied school shootings.

It was unclear whether the shooter was a student.

Levin said colleges need to do a better job of spotting and helping those who have the potential to act out in such a violent manner. Often the warning signs are there, she said, but not taken seriously.

At Buffalo State College, University Police continue to remind students and staff not to be lulled into complacency, even though they may feel safe in the academic confines of the college campus, said Lt. Sam Lunetta.

"Let's face it, a person walking around with a backpack on a college campus is nothing out of the ordinary," Lunetta said, "but we're constantly reminding individuals to be aware."

Colleges across Western New York reached out to the Virginia Tech community on Monday.

Niagara University organized a campus prayer service for today, said Sister Nora Gatto, executive director for university mission and campus ministry.

"At the University at Buffalo, our hearts are heavy at this terrible news, and our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, their families and the entire Virginia Tech community," UB President John B. Simpson said in a prepared statement.

"Colleges and universities should be -- and generally are -- safe havens . . . places where the currency is ideas -- not violence," he said. "That such a horrendous act took place at one of our nation's colleges is nearly impossible to comprehend."


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