SPECIAL- Wake-up call: Could it happen here?

April 16 is a day when college rivalries faded and "Today we're all Hokies" became the cry of solidarity and empathy with those who suffered the horrors in Blacksburg. 

UVA President John Casteen issued a statement of sympathy that emphasized the close ties between the Hokies and the Hoos. 

"Virginia Tech is family," he says. "Many of us have parents, daughters and sons, sisters and brothers, and friends who study, teach, or work in Blacksburg. Many of us are Tech alumni."

On Monday, Virginia Tech became Any College, USA. And that brought the realization that what happened there could happen anywhere, including the University of Virginia. So what's to prevent it?

"We don't discuss operational particulars," says University Police Captain Michael Coleman. "We do develop plans for a variety of situations from natural disasters to criminal," he says. "We integrate them with regional plans, and we always try to develop appropriate responses."

One thing Coleman noticed in the coverage at Virginia Tech was the number of different agencies responding, and he says local law enforcement have worked to develop both a radio and dispatch system that Charlottesville, Albemarle, and UVA police and emergency response teams can share. 

"That's a really big aspect," he stresses. "Communication between groups is so important."

Student regulations prohibit possession of firearms on Grounds, but such rules probably wouldn't affect a determined killer like the Virginia Tech shooter, Cho Seung-Hui.

As for the security of buildings, UVA has a variety of dormitory designs. "Every dorm here has a way of locking," says Coleman, but some are more locked than others.

"The old-style dorms are always kept locked," Coleman says. But although students in the suite-style dorms on Alderman Road are encouraged to keep their doors locked, they often prop them open, he acknowledges.

Most university classroom buildings are open to the public. "We have to look at them in terms of use," Coleman says. For example, Jordan Hall was once open, but now it's used as a lab and kept locked.

Jordan Hall also happens to be the site of three of UVA's most public security problems. In 1987, a female student survived a throat-slashing by a construction worker there; in 1985, a student who studied there went missing and was never found; and in the late 1990s, a distraught male student committed suicide.

 While there have been no on-Grounds killings of students, a UVA student stabbed a local firefighter to death along 14th Street in November 2003.

"The university is constantly reevaluating its security," says Coleman. "For one reason, basic technology changes so rapidly." And after what happened at Virginia Tech, he says, "We'll sit down and discuss what went right, what went wrong." 

To UVA students, parents, faculty, and staff concerned about security, Coleman says, "I would like them to know we believe the university to be a relatively safe place. We have a trained police force ready to respond."

University spokeswoman Carol Wood is not aware of many calls from concerned parents worried about the safety of their offspring in the wake of the Tech tragedy, but she says Vice President for Student Affairs Pat Lampkin is sending a message to parents.

So could it happen here? Apart from a shooting early in UVA's history when Professor John Davis was killed November 12, 1840, trying to calm a disturbance on the Lawn, murderous incidents at the University have been almost nonexistent. 

"Certainly we hope it would never happen here," says Wood. "We're always reassessing safety, and we've taken a lot of measures over the past few years. You hope and you pray you have everything covered."

How safe?