June 8, 2007

Campus security issues focus of meet

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VU Police Chief Marlon Lynch, left, and Paul Ragan, M.D., spoke at last week’s Leadership Breakfast Club.
(photo by Susan Urmy)

Campus security issues focus of meet

Before April's shootings at Virginia Tech, fewer than 100 people on the Vanderbilt Campus were signed up to receive emergency alerts as text messages.

Now, following an enrollment effort, more than 4,000 people are signed up to get the alerts, Vanderbilt Police Chief Marlon Lynch told the Leadership Breakfast Club last Friday.

That kind of awareness of some of the issues of campus security is only one of the ways Vanderbilt has responded since the Virginia Tech incident.

Lynch was joined at the meeting by Paul Ragan, M.D., associate professor of Psychiatry, who noted that the most common type of workplace violence is not students or employees turning on each other, but outsiders injuring others in the commission of another crime, such as robbery.

Lynch and Ragan presented security and mental health perspectives as complementary in dealing with campus violence.

“A lot of things that have been recommended as best practice [in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings], we have in place,” Lynch said. He noted that Vanderbilt Police regularly review incident reports with campus officials to identify students who may be exhibiting mental health or behavioral problems.

Lynch also noted his department's close cooperation with the Metropolitan Nashville Police as a major factor in helping control any potential incident, and noted the impossibility of “locking down” the Vanderbilt campus, with its open access and hundreds of buildings.

Ragan pointed out with statistics and maps that college campuses are almost uniformly safe places and that most school shooters inform others of their plans.

“Incidents of targeted violence at school rarely are sudden, impulsive acts,” Ragan said. “The best way of preventing this sort of thing is everybody taking care of everybody else.” He showed a graph indicating that the most common months of school shootings are December and May.

He also said that the aftermath of an incident is an often overlooked consequence — the post traumatic stress disorder and other mental stress and anguish of others.

The Leadership Breakfast Club meetings are scheduled for every other month and are designed to provide an informal setting for information-sharing and conversation among several levels of management and leadership. The meetings are by invitation and are hosted by the Office of News and Public Affairs.