After the Va. Tech Tragedy, Colleges Question How They Cope With Crisis

After the massacre at Virginia Tech University -- the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history -- university officials across the country are looking at their security policies to see if they could handle a crisis of epic proportions.

Not all are certain their schools could cope.

While campus police officers and representatives from colleges and universities all over the United States say they have confidence in their security plans, they admit they may not be equipped to respond to a major crisis as fast as students can communicate with one another.

"E-mail is almost becoming passé to reach students now," said the University of Florida's Steve Orlando. "We're looking at a system that would give us the ability to reach the students on their cell phones because, as you know, the cell phone is the way to reach students these days."

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And though they seem dubious about metal detectors going up in front of classrooms and armed guards watching over dorms, they don't rule out the possibility that campuses may introduce stricter security measures.

"Anytime you have 50,000 young people in one place, you think about those kind of worst case scenarios," Orlando said.

Full coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting on "World News With Charles Gibson," "Nightline," "Good Morning America" and an ABC network special Tuesday at 10 p.m. EDT

Before Monday's massacre, the University of Texas at Austin was the site of the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history. On Aug. 1, 1966, Charles Whitman climbed up to the observation deck of the school's landmark tower, pointed a rifle and shot at the ground below for 96 minutes. Sixteen people were killed, 31 were wounded.

Since then, UT Austin has beefed up its on-campus security. Robert Dahlstrom, the university's chief of police, said that his department could handle a crisis on the level of the Virginia Tech massacre.

"We're prepared for something like that here," he said. "We'd do the best job we could. We have the right resources to do a good job, [and] hope that our officers would do a good job, as that is what they've been trained to do."

Dahlstrom explained that UT Austin has a warning system in place that notifies students to take cover inside a building. While it was built for weather-related emergencies, it could be used to warn of a shooter on campus.

The university also uses a mobile alert service to send emergency text messages to cell phones. But students must sign up for the service, and out of UT Austin's 50,000 students, only 8,000 to 9,000 subscribe, according to Dahlstrom

Can Security Catch Up to Technology?

The shootings at Virginia Tech highlighted the inability of the university to warn students as fast as they could alert each other. Students didn't receive notice from the school acknowledging the danger on campus until more than two hours after the first shooting.

"The university community is urged to be cautious," an official e-mail sent at 9:26 a.m. said, "and are asked to contact Virginia Tech police if you observe anything suspicious or with information on the case."

Instead of depending on the school or e-mail for information, students relied on text messages and social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace to get in touch with one another. Officials at other schools agreed that e-mail is no longer the best way to get in touch with an increasingly tech-savvy student body.

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