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Universities Are on Alert, Rethinking Own Security

By Valerie Strauss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Security was heightened yesterday at some colleges and universities in the Washington area, and officials began reviewing procedures in reaction to the fatal shootings at Virginia Tech.

Schools as close as Radford University, in the Blue Ridge mountains about 15 miles from the campus, and as far as Howard University in the District, 270 miles away, beefed up security and imposed other restrictions as officials waited to see if the events were confined to Virginia Tech.

"This is the nightmare for any college president or administrator," said Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity Washington University in the District. "Every single one of us has been reading this all morning saying, 'How can we be sure that doesn't happen here?' And of course you can't be 100 percent sure."

Schools immediately began offering condolences and assistance to Virginia Tech while trying to reassure their own students.

The University of Virginia offered counseling services and police assistance. When Virginia Tech's Web site failed yesterday because so many people were trying to get online, U-Va. posted a message on its site telling people that the campus was closed and to stay away, said Carol Wood, a U-Va. spokeswoman.

"This is a horrific tragedy for Va. Tech," Wood said in an e-mail. "The magnitude of it is incomprehensible. . . . The students, staff and faculty of Va. Tech are part of our extended family. And in the coming days, each of us is going to be touched by this tragedy in ways that we cannot even begin to comprehend."

Wood said she could not, however, reveal specific security measures taken by U-Va. because "it would jeopardize the effectiveness of those plans."

At Radford, additional campus police officers were called in, and foot and bike patrols were increased. University police maintained constant contact with Virginia Tech's police, said spokesman Rob Tucker. Marymount University in Arlington put its police force on heightened alert as officials met to discuss security, said spokeswoman Laurie Callahan.

George Washington University in the District also put campus police on heightened alert and sent a message to its students, faculty and staff asking them to report "any suspicious action" and to "exercise appropriate caution," spokeswoman Tracy Schario said.

Officials at George Mason University in Fairfax County issued a letter to the community offering counseling services, spokesman Dan Walsch said. McGuire said the shootings would cause Trinity "to certainly review our security proceedings with feeling."

At the University of Maryland at College Park, President C.D. Mote Jr. said authorities reviewed their safety and security initiatives. "We want to make sure we have left no stone unturned."

Johns Hopkins University spokesman Dennis O'Shea said security had been tightened at the Baltimore campus over the past few years after two homicides in off-campus housing, one in 2004 and another in 2005.

Stepped-up measures included the installation of more than 100 surveillance cameras with technology that can detect unusual activities -- such as a package being delivered at 3 a.m. or someone walking with his or her hands in the air -- and then alert an operator, O'Shea said. Students must scan their ID cards and identify themselves several times to get into their dorm rooms, he said.

"Those two incidents persuaded us that we need to act swiftly," he said.

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