Tech’s response counters with examples and arguments that a “timely warning” on a college campus has no quantitative definition and has not typically been expected within two hours of an incident.
“The record clearly supports that a ‘timely warning’ is provided at best several hours post incident and normally within 24 to 48 hours,” the response said.
Michael Mulhare, director of Tech’s office of emergency management, prepared the university’s 73-page response. After the report was made public Tuesday afternoon, he said the notion of a “timely warning” was not clearly defined, and his response attempted to show that.
“I think that’s what the report does a very good job of — it demonstrates that the guidance documents provided by the Department of Education refer to timely warning and when you look at what its examples and illustrations of what a timely warning is, it is certainly measured in 48 hours,” Mulhare said. “So, clearly, ‘timely warning,’ prior to the events that happened on our campus, was something that happened in days, not minutes.”
Daniel Carter, Security on Campus director of public policy, pointed to a 2005 clause added to regulations that mandates warnings be issued as soon as “pertinent information is available.”
Carter said that while the emergency notification requirements of the Clery Act were added largely in response to the shootings on Tech’s campus, the university had already looked into faster ways of issuing timely warnings. He said the university had already discussed implementing text message alerts in 2006, prior to emergency notification being part of federal regulations.
According to Carter, the dialogue about text message alerts began after the 2006 incident in Blacksburg when convict William Morva escaped a nearby correctional facility. Tech’s campus was locked down because of fears that Morva may have been headed toward the school.
Tech’s response compares the timeline of April 16, 2007, to the timelines of other universities’ incidents to show examples of other “timely warnings.”
“On September 21, 2007, five months after the Virginia Tech shooting, two Delaware State students were shot on the campus mall,” the response said. “The headline of the cbsnews.com story dated September 22, 2007 was, ‘Delaware State Reacted Quickly to Shooting.’ The story provides a timeline. The shooting was reported at 12:54 a.m., by 2:11 a.m. University officials were meeting to discuss the school’s response and notices were posted on the school web site around 2:40 a.m.”
Tech’s response continues to say that the chairperson of the Virginia Tech Review Panel commended Delaware State on a timely response. It then emphasizes with bold font that the timelines of the two events, measured in minutes, are nearly
Dolores Stafford, a nationally recognized expert on Clery Act enforcement whom Tech brought in as a consultant, wrote in a letter attached to the university’s response that she did not believe Tech violated the federal regulations. She conducted a survey and concluded only 25 percent of universities were issuing timely warnings within one hour
Carter responded that a widespread lack of compliance does not relieve Tech of liability.
“Their defense is right that most other institutions were not issuing warnings in that time frame,” Carter said. “The report from Dolores Stafford says that about a quarter of institutions in 2006 were working within that one-hour time frame. But just because a majority of institutions were not up to speed with the 2005 guidelines, doesn’t mean that wasn’t the law.”
Mulhare said the regulations were not clear about enforcement in situations such as Tech’s, and hopes the response’s arguments will alter the agency’s view of Tech’s actions.
“They demonstrate that there is an appearance that the Department of Education is trying to apply a standard that didn’t exist at the time of the incident,” Mulhare said.
Carter said he was not aware of any other universities that were being reviewed because of violations during that time. He acknowledged a point Stafford made that, “if the events of that day had ended with the two murders in West Ambler-Johnston, it is likely that Virginia Tech would not be responding to this inquiry from the Department of
“The fact that there were consequences from the time frame — that is, quite frankly, why the department took this case,” Carter said.