- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 27, 2008

RICHMOND (AP) — Legislation requiring colleges and universities to better plan for emergencies such as school shootings is on its way to the governor.

The bill would require universities to develop an emergency plan and update it every four years, establish a threat-assessment team and create a system to notify students and employees of emergencies by e-mail, phone, text messages or other means.

“It will help parents and students feel more comfortable about returning to campuses,” said Delegate Annie B. Crockett-Stark, Wythe Republican.

Mrs. Crockett-Stark said many schools have implemented such procedures, but it is important that they be required to do so.

The House of Delegates voted unanimously yesterday to send the bill to the governor after agreeing to a Senate change that would make the bill take effect in January rather than in August.

It was passed the same day that Ferrum College in Southwestern Virginia canceled classes and went on lockdown while police searched for a man seen on campus with a gun. No one was injured, school officials said.

The legislation mirrors the recommendations of a panel that investigated the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech, where a mentally ill student killed 32 students and faculty before turning the gun on himself. The panel appointed by Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, concluded that lives could have been saved at Virginia Tech if alerts had been sent earlier and classes canceled.

Mr. Kaine will review the legislation but generally supports efforts to improve emergency planning on campuses, said spokesman Gordon Hickey.

Tech gunman Seung-hui Cho shot his first two victims in a dormitory just after 7 a.m., but university officials did not send an e-mail alert until more than two hours later — just before Cho killed 30 others in a classroom building across campus.

The panel also found that the university’s emergency plan was outdated and that the school did not have a threat-assessment team. The legislation calls for threat-assessment teams that include representatives of law enforcement, the mental health profession, student affairs and human resources and, if available, the university’s attorney.

The governor’s panel said Tech missed several opportunities to share information to get help for Cho, whose disturbing English papers and reclusive behavior led to clashes with his teachers and alienated his classmates.

Mrs. Crockett-Stark said students have told her that they would welcome having one place to report someone who is acting strangely.

“I don’t want it to cause people to hunt threatening behavior, and I don’t think most will,” Mrs. Crockett-Stark said. “What it will do is to establish good communication.”

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