In the chaotic minutes following a fatal shooting at Virginia Tech Thursday, school officials were forced to test emergency procedures put in place following the 2007 campus rampage that resulted in 33 deaths.
Officials used Twitter to send a campus lockdown notice to students seven minutes after the 12:30 p.m. shooting of a Virginia Tech police officer, who was making a routine traffic stop in a campus parking lot. School officials said the gunman, who approached the officer on foot as he was making the traffic stop, fled on foot.
Soon after the shooting, a second person whom police are presuming is the gunman was found dead of a gunshot wound in another campus parking lot with the weapon nearby. The man is not yet identified.
While school officials lifted the lockdown Thursday evening, telling students they could resume their regular activities, Friday’s final exams were postponed until further notice.
In the April 2007 massacre, Virginia Tech officials were criticized and fined for waiting two hours after the first bullets were fired before issuing a campus alert. The gunman, Seung-hui Cho, fired more than 100 bullets at his victims before taking his own life. The attack is considered one of the deadliest shootings in US history.
The response Thursday was much swifter as school officials sent e-mail, text, and Twitter alerts about every 30 minutes.
Using Twitter, the school first reported: “Gun shots reported- Coliseum Parking lot. Stay Inside. Secure doors. Emergency personnel responding. Call 911 for help.”
A second tweet followed: “Suspect described as white male, gray sweat pants, gray hat w/neon green brim, maroon hoodie and backpack. On foot towards McComas. Call 911.”
The shooting took place the same day the university was appealing a $55,000 fine imposed by the US Department of Education for violating the rules of an emergency notification policy in the 2007 shooting. In the school’s challenge of the fine, it says not enough information was known in the early stages of the attack, especially the news that there were deaths.
Over the past five years, Virginia Tech enhanced its emergency response procedures by incorporating social media, mobile phone, and website alerts.
The system was tested in August when a report of a gunman on campus caused the university to lock down the campus for five hours. No gunman was ever found.