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One year after Va. Tech massacre, universities use technology to alert students

Nearly one year after the deadliest campus shooting in U.S. history, security officials at Christian universities are asking students to keep a vigilant eye on their surroundings — and their cell phones.
Across the nation, campuses associated with Churches of Christ have installed computer programs that send e-mails and text messages to students’ mobile devices in an emergency. Most implemented the systems before the slaying of 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech, officials told The Christian Chronicle.
But the April 16, 2007, massacre is a reminder that “no campus is immune,” said Bill Goad, president of Cascade College in Portland, Ore. Cascade officials notified students after two instructors received death threats by e-mail Jan. 8. Security locked down the 300-student campus as police searched the city to find the suspect, a former student, who was taken into custody hours later.  
A similar alert system was used to notify students at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., as flames from last year’s wildfires approached the campus.
Campus ministers also recommended text messaging as a way to keep in touch with students during emergencies.
Recently, a dormitory on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson was evacuated after a suspected ammonia leak, said Jesse Warren of the church-sponsored Arizona Campus Mission Foundation. Using text messages, Warren was able to locate students in his ministry within 10 minutes, he said.
“If you’re a campus minister who hasn’t adapted to the art of using the text message, I would say the time has arrived,” he added.
At Harding University in Searcy, Ark., school officials are combining high-tech alert systems with increased patrols by public safety officers, said school spokeswoman April Fatula. Since the Virginia Tech shooting, two officers are posted at the university’s auditorium before daily chapel.
High- and low-tech approaches are necessary to keep campuses safe, said Tom Gaumer, Cascade’s director of campus life. During the threat incident at Cascade, observant students played a valuable role in helping police locate the suspect, Gaumer said.
“They’re the best ones to know that something strange is going on,” he said.

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