It’s always disconcerting (and, to be honest, entertaining) to received a security alert from VCU. Not only are they an immediate and direct form of communicating pertinent information to students, they also function as a sort of environmental security benchmark for the student populace.
That is, if you actually receive the alert messages.
While incoming students have been required to register for the text message alert system since last year, some students, like myself, were grandfathered through that requirement and don’t receive security alerts.
The most feasible solution to this is to require students sign up for the service. Coincidentally, just a few hours before the fatal shooting on Thursday, VCU posted a message encouraging students to update their emergency contact information, or else face a registration hold on their account.
Obviously, there should be a special concern for students with phone service plans that don’t allow free or unlimited texting (particularly international students), but such a requirement would be a strong start to ensuring a larger portion of the student body remains properly informed.
Part of maintaining a well-informed student populace means sending out alerts that are both specific and concise: The message “BELVIDERE/BROAD. Go/Stay indoors. Avoid area. Police on scene” is vague and undoubtedly encouraged some foolhardy, inquisitive students to head toward the scene of the shooting instead of away from it.
If the VCU Police Department considered the situation to be potentially dangerous, they should have informed students that there was a shooting or even implemented a campus-wide shutdown.
What occurred that night constituted a serious event. An 18-year-old is dead and, despite the suspect being apprehended, the situation could have escalated. No students were directly involved, but students were present in the area at the time of the story.
To that end, the issue here is less about a technological failure on the part of VCU and VCU PD, but a matter of establishing precedent and defining what constitutes an emergency or lockdown scenario. Just two days prior, a siren test occurred; wouldn’t it have been prudent to at least engage in an exercise of safety in the minutes following the shot, even if the situation was more or less under control?
Once again, we are forced to inquire where the boundary of our campus ends and the domain of the wider city begins. How much closer would the shooting have to be for that alert to be more precise or for a lockdown to occur?
The criteria regarding off-campus procedures and what the VCU PD considers off-campus should either be directly provided to students or otherwise explicitly stated. The purpose of doing so would not be to warn students that they’re entering the wilderness of the city or that they’re on their own in terms of security, but simply to inform them that the jurisdiction of the area they’re entering has changed and that VCU security features might not be of access to them, namely, an emergency reporting telephone.
The security notifications that the university provides us with are intended to keep students informed and alert. Crimes aren’t directly thwarted by them, but it’s comforting that the university continually seeks to remind of the nature of the reality of our environment.
They excel at promoting an informed and secure environment for the VCU community. It’s equally our responsibility that we help follow through with that mission by being mindful of our personal safety.
To that end, sign up for the alerts and contact technology services if you have issues receiving them.