Campus Rampage Turns Focus On Security

The massacre at Virginia Tech, which left 33 people dead, has parents wondering just how safe their kid's college campus really is. Meanwhile, college security departments around the country are re-examining their safety measures.

Campus security is often focused on assaults or break-ins. Now, the focus will shift to something much more horrific. The mass shooting at Virginia Tech illustrates a security challenge all campuses share: Their openness.

"If somebody wants to commit an act of crime or violence, our campuses are very open all across this country," Dr. Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, told The Early Show national correspondent Hattie Kauffmann.

After the 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., high schools added security features like perimeter fencing but college campuses are simply too big for that.

"Here you have a campus that has over 2,600 acres, which is gigantic," Stephens said. "Your average elementary or high school campus might be from five to 40 acres."

The University of Southern California has some of the toughest security around, yet even there, anyone can enter the campus.

Click here to see photos of the Virginia Tech massacre.
"USC is like a small city with 30,000 combined students and we're an open campus in the middle of Los Angeles," said David Carlisle of the USC Department of Public Safety. "We keep it safe with over 220 personnel, to patrol this campus 365 days a year."

At many universities including USC, special card keys are required to enter dorms. USC has motion detector cameras and a command center where, on Monday, news of the Virginia Tech shootings was constant. But incoming freshmen are not told what to do if there is a shooter on campus because Carlisle said that is "an extreme situation."

"I don't know if we'd specifically talk about a shooter on campus," he said.

This is the time of year parents take their kids on college tours. With security now on everyone's mind, there are some questions parents should ask:

  • Are there academy trained police officers?
  • Are they armed?
  • Is the campus patrolled 24 hours a day?
  • What is the crisis management plan?

    "If you can have lock-down procedures where kids can shelter in place and they are good, solid locks on the door so people can't come through, those are good, solid responses you can do," said Robin Gray, executive editor of Campus Safety magazine.

    At Cal State Fullerton, they know all to well the dangers of a gunman. Thirty years ago, an armed man killed seven people on campus. There is a memorial to the victims, there are uniformed officers on patrol and undercover cops in the classrooms.

    "If someone were to create an environment such as what happened today, our officers would respond with much higher firepower than they used to carry," Lt. Tom Gehrls of the Cal State Fullerton police department said.

    Typically, college students feel invincible, but the latest news has them feeling scared.

    "It really does scare me 'cause a campus is supposed to provide, like, you know, safety and security," USC student Nirav Chitkara said.

    "When something like this happens, it's like where are we going? What's going to happen in the future?" USC student Wesley Smith said.

    Campus police want to remind worried parents that these are extremely rare events — so rare that incoming freshman is rarely told what to do if there's a gunman. In California, they're more likely to be told what to do in case of an earthquake.

    But starting this year, hundreds of colleges will have a question on their admissions application specifically asking students whether they've been convicted of a crime or disciplined at school.