Expert: College Lockdowns Unrealistic

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Lockdowns of college campuses during emergencies are difficult to execute and are not appropriate in most cases, a campus law enforcement expert on Wednesday told a panel investigating the Virginia Tech shootings.

“I think we have this impression of ‘lockdown’ that you hit a switch and everything shuts down,” said Don Challis, president of the Virginia Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators and police chief of the College of William and Mary. “It’s not as easy as saying, ‘Why weren’t the doors locked?'”

In the wake of the April 16 tragedy, some criticized Virginia Tech for not locking down the campus after gunman Seung-Hui Cho shot two students in a dormitory. More than two hours later, he killed 30 people and himself inside Norris Hall.

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However, Challis said the size and layout of most college campuses make lockdowns an unrealistic option. Instead, Challis said universities should advise faculty, staff and students to find a secure location such as their room or office during an emergency.

One victim’s parent took issue with Challis’ comments.

“Imposing something might have been better than doing nothing,” said Holly Sherman, the mother of slain student Leslie Sherman. “I think notification of the first shooting should have been made immediately. And I don’t care how. It may be a loud siren. Even in the Green Zone in Iraq, they’ve got the siren that tells everybody to take cover. They didn’t even do anything like that. And that, to me, is inexcusable.”

Wednesday’s session was the last scheduled public meeting for the panel, which is expected to issue a report with wide-ranging recommendations next month.

The panel’s staff director, Phil Schaenman, outlined what the report will include: a detailed timeline of events, university security issues, Cho’s mental health history, counseling treatment and legal issues, gun access and gun purchase laws, and the police and university’s actions related to both sets of shootings on April 16. The report also will include a section on the aftermath of the tragedy and how the university and state reacted.

Panel chairman Gerald Massengill said during the meeting that the panel planned to improve its communication with the victims’ families, many of whom were in the audience.

Several victims’ family members said in a statement to the panel before its last meeting that they felt ostracized and demanded representation on the commission. Kaine later asked that a panel member serve as a liaison to the families.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)