- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) | Virginia Techspokesman Larry Hincker told Virginia’s campus security officials Monday that in a crisis, it’s best to “communicate first and think later.”

It is important for universities to let the campus community know what’s going on quickly - or face the consequences later, Mr. Hincker said.

Virginia Tech officials were criticized for not immediately alerting students, faculty and staff that two people had been killed in a dormitory early on April 16, 2007. More than two hours later, officials sent an e-mail about a “shooting incident” on campus, minutes before the gunman opened fire in a classroom building. He killed 30 others and himself.

It is difficult for officials to know what information to release when details are sketchy and the wrong information could cause panic, Mr. Hincker said.

“The hardest thing you’ve got is, should I do it, should I pull the D-ring now?” Mr. Hincker told officials attending the Governor’s Campus Preparedness Conference at Virginia Commonwealth University.

A governor-appointed panel that investigated the university’s response to the shootings concluded that Virginia Tech officials should have provided clearer information to the students and staff right after the first shootings.

Mr. Hincker said that first e-mail went out within about an hour after he found out about the dormitory shootings. He said he later went back and researched the previous dozen or so campus shootings across the United States and found that no other school had sent out an alert as quickly.

“Everybody is trying to judge us by the new standard,” Mr. Hincker said. “The fact of the matter is that everybody learned from Virginia Tech.”

A handwritten draft of a more detailed e-mail alert telling the campus that one student was dead and another was being treated at a hospital was made public because of a settlement between the families of most of the victims and the state.

Mr. Hincker said that version, scribbled on paper by him, was intended as a follow-up of the first e-mail but that it never went out because officials were interrupted with word of the second round of shootings in Norris Hall.

Officials have said they believe nothing would have stopped the killing spree by Seung-Hui Cho.

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