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RE: Preliminary Blacksburg Observations

Upon learning that one of the senselessly murdered young men and women on the Virginia Tech campus was from my own small suburban community, there is an unwelcome additional sense of personal connection felt. Though I did not know the young man – a model citizen with aspirations of becoming an officer in American military service – or his parents personally, there is that increased sense of direct loss associated with the personal nature of small family-oriented communities like mine. In a community known locally for seemingly having nearly as many parks for our children throughout town as fire hydrants, there is an additional and personal feeling of sadness.

I believe we all awoke and looked at our children with more amazement and love, an extra hug and a tighter squeeze, somehow clinging to the sense of our ability to protect them right then, right there. We cherish that ability borne of instinct, but yield reluctantly – especially today - to the reality that we cannot protect them from everything and everyone.

Bearing this in mind, it is with due respect to my friend and colleague, Jay Fraser, that I must profoundly disagree with assertions that we have ‘learned nothing’ or that Procedure X or Policy Y would have prevented this senseless act of murderous indiscretion.

The students did not die because of guns or gun laws, nor did they die because of failed policy or police inaction. They did not even die because of miserable American debauchery.

They died because a lunatic wanted to kill them. Period. No policy or police action, given what appear the knowns and ‘known unknowns’ at the time, would have changed the net effect of the barbaric attack on apparent random victims.

It's just never the lunatic to blame. Dead men don't give quotes.

Consider the tone heard in one of the first early afternoon news conferences of that fateful day as the chief of the Virginia Tech campus police fielded questions. In what seemed the 47th question regarding procedures and emergency policy, a journalist asked with discernable attitude about why the campus had not been ‘locked down.’

Paraphrasing, the police chief initially responded, “Do you mean after the first incident, locking down the whole campus?” The journalist quickly quipped, “Well, yeah,” and continued in his incredulous tone (again, paraphrasing), “Don’t you have procedures?”

It was at this early point that I saw what appeared to be media battle lines being drawn. This is not to disqualify any question on the subject meaningless. The question is valid. But the tone then and since has been one of looking to affix blame upon those who killed no one. The sense of self-righteousness among some of the journalists covering and some of the discussions on and offline is simply incredulous.

What procedures, I ask with a stern measure of both frustration and anger? Precisely what procedure or policy, police or citizen action short of positively identifying the gunman and removing the oxygen from his lungs would have changed things?

A “campus lockdown”? Who among the righteous yammering on such brilliant solutions missed the chains and padlock part of Cho Seung-Hui’s murderous equation? It seems he quite wanted a lockdown, doesn’t it? So perhaps it would have been a different building, but in another building it would most certainly have been, with 32 different murdered targets. Why? Because a lunatic wanted to kill them.

An evacuation of buildings? To do what? Herd confused student outside rather than inside, where they would be clumping together in discussions trying to figure out what was happening? Once again the net effect, short of identifying and killing or capturing the heavily armed killer, would have been to alter the specific targets without altering the specific outcome: As many dead as possible. Why? Because a lunatic wanted to kill them.

In this instance, the blame must be affixed squarely upon the quiet and clearly disturbed emotional recluse who clad his chest with ammunition and set out to kill as many fellow students as he possibly could. The blame must not be deflected to anyone or anything else.

Our campus environments are open and free and must remain so. We need not ‘learn’ from attacks – terroristic or criminal in nature – that we must create Fortress University or even Contingency Community College.

Should there be policies and procedures flexible enough to be applied to an array of unthinkable (and thinkable) situations? Of course. But let’s be careful we do not blur the lines of liberty in a quest for impenetrable security.

And let’s also be careful not to forget that the dead are no longer with us because of the planned, deliberate and determined deadly actions of a man. They are not gone because of the failures of others, through inaction or ineffective policy.

5 Comments

Steve:

Clearly, without knowing of any personal connection to the tragedy, I believe that I wrote many of the same things as you.

- don't blame guns or the 2nd Amendment
- don't blame the Administration
- understand why and what made the guy do this.

I was mostly with you until I got to "But let’s be careful we do not blur the lines of liberty in a quest for impenetrable security."

Arguably, many Americans believe that their liberties were blurred by the Patriot act (I'm not one of them, but plenty of people hold that belief). I don't believe that my post was promoting any blurring of liberties. But my comments did raise at least two serious questions relating to the very basics of the progression of stages in an "event" such as the one we witnessed (from something that was written about a year ago in a proposal):

In dealing with needs for different problems and levels, a set of five stages stand out as fundamentally common to the various homeland security problems. These follow a logical progression, are not mutually exclusive, allow recognition of overlap and transitions, and will require expansion on a problem-by-problem basis.

These stages, and the interrelationships between each are described below (the actual diagram shows the interrelationships):

1. Anticipation and preparation, including threat definition
2. Identification of indicators, and warning
3. Mitigation, including avoidance and containment
4. Response at various levels, including roles, missions, support, transitions, etc. for:

· Pre-event
· During event
· Post event
5. Recovery, including return to normal status

Thus, the discussion of multi-node communications and the need for a plan to deal with attacks like this one.

I appreciate your personal attachment to this Blackburg event.

Many of our Nation's high schools already have metal detectors. Further steps to enhance the security of our Nation's students from terror or violence are not unreasonable in my opinion. While we'd all like to hope that there will be no more Columbines or Blackburgs, that isn't likely realistic. So the question becomes one of balance. As you put it, liberties versus reasonable precaution and ability to respond.

First, Jay, let me be clear in acknowledging that my 'personal attachment' to this is geographic and largely existential in nature.

Second, my disagreements with you are not necessarily in the substance of your policy review or procedure considerations. They are much more general in nature stemming from what I felt coming away from your post, which was an assertion that a better procedure or policy in Blacksburg this week would have altered the determined murderous intent of one man.

I think this discussion is most certainly and correctly happening in Blacksburg among the authroities there.

In here I have failed to distinguish between any specific disagreement with you and those generally associated with certain aspects of media coverage. Apologies for leaving that sense. My observations are very general in nature and based on emotional response, one surely not unique to me.

Steve, as I explained in my note, the post was written largely in realtime and as a response to what I saw happening (and through the filter of the preparedness/response model), not to what anyone else was writing or thinking. It certainly wasn't a function of ciriticism of the school or even judging the situation.

But I do feel strongly that given the World in which we live today, a certain amount of anticipation and preparation (#1 above) is in order. Having said that, there is no question that a madman like Cho will do what he will, regardless or inspite of procedures.

As more information flows, we're probably going to find that certain "stops" simply didn't happen to get Cho out of the system before this happened.

However, I still believe that Universities, especially those engaged in research, are indisputably among the "soft targets" that fall under the preparedness/response scenarios.

It's the price we pay to live in a free, multi-cultural society. There will always be those hidden deranged individuals who lose total control. However, it is unfortunate that in this case the signs were there to have stopped it.

It is interesting that in Virginia you have to wait 30 days before you can purchase a second weapon----well, why not wait 30 days before you can claim the first weapon??? This would allow ample time for a complete background check and should have picked up the shooter's mental imbalance as officially diagnosed about a year ago.

From currently emerging reports, Cho was pronounced dangerous by a court magistrate in 2005.

No one acted. Who should have acted? Roomates? Instructors? Administration? Law Enforcement? No one acted.

But he hadn't broken any laws apparently. This is all second guessing the decisions by whoever it was that could have stopped him. But no one did.

Why treat killers like Cho any differently than any other domestic terrorist?