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Virginia shooting signals need for pervasive alert system

I’m writing this column on the day of the Virginia Tech national tragedy. Several student witnesses testified that they didn’t hear the initial gunshots and warnings because they were listening to their iPods or music players. It brought to mind a thought I’ve had for the last five years, and I’m sure I’m far from alone with the concern. We need a pervasive EWS (early warning system) that can override any and all multi-media sources.

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July 11, 2007Jim Loftus writes: Virginia Tech shooting also signals need for preempting violent threats.

Universities use a circling the wagons strategy when it comes to campus safety. The focus is on protection of students from violence or crime originating outside the campus community. University police, escorts and shuttle services provide students safe passage. Web pages designed for parents stress student safety in terms of keeping students in a secured, criminal-free environment.

The inherent vulnerability in this approach is the Insider Threat. With a menace inside a secure perimeter, security services can not only fail to recognize a danger, but unintentionally provide a cluster of better targets for an aggressor.

But this Insider Threat existing in the campus community is not invisible. There’s interaction between the threat and the campus, assassin and his potential victim, whether it be Jeanne Clery or the entire student body.

Assassins, spree killers, school shooters, psychos – whatever one chooses to name them – are all human. Not only are they human, but they are somewhat similar to each other. Similar traits. Similar MO’s. Similar obsessions. Similar behaviors.

– Catcher in the Rye…as an example with assassins. It’s like a prop now. Going to kill someone famous? Note to Self: Get a copy of Salinger’s book.

– Single-spaced letters. When a disgruntled worker begins to deteriorate – maybe becomes a little more desperate, a little more precariously perched on the edge – he has no time for things like paragraphs and spacing. His mind, writing whatever communication he is composing, moves too fast to be slowed down by compositional organization.

– Leakage. The new term for the trace evidence people like Eric and Dylan and Cho leave in their wake. They leak fear and hatred and loneliness and destruction and menace. The kind of person who can extinguish all the light and smiles in a room simply by walking in the door.

While no one can interrogate every person who buys a copy of Catcher in the Rye. Every single-spaced letter is not written by a madman. Fortunately, checking for leakage is legal, responsible and feasible. [1]

For the most part, a routine sweep for trace evidence, or leakage, is a matter of using the resources of a university which are nearly all in place, and already funded. The information is probably recorded. The problem is that information without analysis is meaningless, literally just more paperwork.

Threat analysis turns information into intelligence. Good intelligence can lead to prediction, prevention and intervention.

[1] Other less-than-credible campus safety proposals include: Deputizing and arming the faculty, under consideration by the Nevada board of regents; arming the students, as proposed by the South Carolina legislature; and “quick access” to body armor as proposed to the University of Oklahoma.

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