Local News

UNC-CH Chancellor: 'We Are Not Immune'

Posted April 17, 2007 6:57 p.m. EDT
Updated April 18, 2007 8:38 a.m. EDT

— James Moeser, chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said Tuesday that it is unrealistic to think that college campuses are immune to violence such as the fatal shooting rampage that has shaken the Virginia Tech campus and the nation.

On Monday, a previously obscure Virginia Tech senior identified as Cho Seung-Hui, 23, opened fire on campus in the deadliest school shooting rampage in U.S. history, killing 32 other students and faculty before turning one of his guns on himself.

Most every campus is vulnerable, Moeser said, no matter how much precaution school administrators and security officials try to implement.

"We're not immune. No one is immune," Moeser said. "There is no safe haven in the world."

In March 2006, the UNC-Chapel Hill community was a victim of  violence on a smaller scale when a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate allegedly drove into a crowd of people in a common gathering area known as "The Pit." Several students were injured.

That showed campus police and top administrators how vulnerable the campus could be. Afterward, police put up posts around The Pit to prevent other vehicles from getting into the area.

But school officials say they cannot completely cut off the area.

"I think it would be a tragedy if the American college campus became a security compound," Moeser said.

As a public university, UNC-Chapel Hill's campus is open to anyone. On a typical week, for example, officials estimate an average of about 75,000 people visit the campus's libraries.

"And yet, we have to balance that sense of openness, transparency and freedom with the feeling of safety," Moeser said.

Throughout the 795-acre campus, which has about 300 buildings, there are emergency call boxes, 53 sworn campus police officers and key-card entries on all dormitories to try to keep the estimated 27,000 students and staff safe.

Locking down portions of the campus is possible, but it would be impossible to lock down the entire campus, interim Public Safety Director Jeff McCracken said.

The university is also focused on communication and sends students e-mail alerts as well as text messages to cell phones and PDAs.

McCracken said that since the Columbine High School massacre near Littleton, Colo., on April 20, 1999, his department undergoes annual training that involves how it would tactically respond to an active shooter situation and how it would get emergency personnel on campus.

Other universities have similar plans. For example, officials at North Carolina State University, which has 54 sworn officers for its 31,000 students, said they maintain a constant review of campus safety and security. It uses e-mail and faculty liaisons in all campus buildings to get out information. It is also considering a reverse 911 system.

At East Carolina University in Greenville, there is an alert system in place that will lock certain campus buildings at the push of a button. There is also a network of surveillance cameras and 50 sworn officers for the approximately 24,500 students. The school plans to hire six more sworn officers this year.

And in light of Monday's shooting at Virginia Tech, Wake Forest University, which can shut down vehicle access to its campus, plans to review its crisis plans and safety measures.

State Attorney General Roy Cooper, along with University of North Carolna System President Erskine Bowles and other UNC system officials, was expected to hold a news conference Wedneday at 2 p.m. to "discuss next steps in campus safety," a state Department of Justice spokeswoman said in a statement Tuesday.