November 14, 2008

New Va. Tech Alert System Fails in First Use

By Donna Leinwand

One of four methods Virginia Tech uses to alert students and faculty in an emergency failed Thursday when school administrators attempted to warn the campus about reports of gunfire in a dorm, the university said.

This is the first time Virginia Tech has used its new emergency alert system since the April 16, 2007, massacre. That day, a student gunman killed 32 people and himself, and injured more than 20 others in a rampage that began in a dorm and ended in a classroom building.

A state report that analyzed the university's emergency response concluded that lives could have been saved if the university had notified students after the initial dorm room shooting and had locked down the campus.

University administrators on Thursday issued a first alert at 1:40 p.m. after Tech police responded to a report of gunfire near the Pritchard Hall dormitory, university spokesman Larry Hincker said.

Hincker said police believe that exploding cartridges from a nail gun in a trash bin caused what sounded to be gunfire. He said police believe that two people exploded the cartridge in the bin by slamming the lid.

As police searched the dorm, the university posted a message to the university Web page, e-mailed it campuswide, sent it to electronic message boards in classrooms and relayed it to the VT Alerts system, the school said. The VT Alerts system is designed to send a text or voice message to mobile devices such as cellphones.

The VT Alerts system failed to deliver some of the messages, the university said. Two other messages sent later Thursday afternoon to the VT Alerts system also failed, the school said. "The VT Alerts system did not perform as expected," the university said.

Tech officials said they have contacted the company that manages the system to determine why non-university accounts did not receive the text and voice messages.

The university tested its system on Oct. 8.

The company, Glendale, Calif.-based 3n, said it had experienced a disruption in service for about an hour and a half.

"We are conducting a thorough analysis and once we have more information, we will share it," said Cinta Putra, CEO of 3n. (c) Copyright 2008 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc. <>