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Alabama campuses reassess security after Va. shooting

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Universities across the state are reassessing security in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, weighing how well e-mail, text messages, Web sites and loudspeakers work during a crisis.

"We're going to use lessons learned from Virginia Tech's tragedy as much as we can," said Auburn University spokeswoman Deedie Dowdle.

Joel Lonergan, director of university relations at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, said the 32 shooting deaths Monday raised security concerns "to a whole new level. This is a Columbine-type of incident for universities."

The gunman at Virginia Tech, who also killed himself, shot two people to death at a dorm and later shot scores more, killing 30, at a classroom building.

Updates plans

Dowdle said Auburn regularly updates its security and emergency response plans, which include the option of reaching students over loudspeakers at Jordan-Hare Stadium.

In Tuscaloosa, University of Alabama spokeswoman Catherine Andreen said UA also is looking for new ways to alert its more than 18,000 students in the event of a crisis. Currently alerts are sent by e-mail, voice-mail or posted on the university's Web site.

A new Emergency Notification System can direct-dial within priority lists of phone numbers broadcasting a recorded message. The system includes cell phone numbers and the ability to send text messages.

There also are plans to expand UA's cell phone number database to allow for expanded instant messaging capabilities and podcasting in an emergency situation.

The university's 57-officer police force trains for such incidents and has agreements that make backup from other area law enforcement available.

"We have plenty of resources available," Andreen said.

Dale Turnbough, spokeswoman for The University of Alabama at Birmingham, said UAB's emergency plan requires contacting students through an automated voice mail system, e-mail, the school's intranet and the media.

After reports that many Virginia Tech students never got word of events unfolding on that campus, UAB is considering reaching students by sending text messages to their cell phones, Turnbough said.

UAB's 80-block campus, with its 70-officer police department, is as open as any city center.

At UAH and nearby Alabama A&M University, campus police met Tuesday with administrators and other officials on steps to ensure that students stay aware of security resources and campus crisis or disaster plans.

Lonergan said the meeting resulted in suggestions sent to UAH President Frank Franz for quick implementation. Some deal with further clarifying lines of authority on campus so there can be no confusion when a quick decision is needed to lock down a building or part of campus.

Smaller campuses also reviewed security.

"I certainly think there's a lot that every college and law enforcement agency is going to learn from this," said Randy Youngblood, chief of campus police at Birmingham-Southern College.

At Birmingham-Southern, the school's plan calls for the use of the telephone, e-mail, police cars with public address systems and even runners carrying messages.

The campus police used the car-mounted loudspeakers during storms spawned by hurricanes in recent years.

"It works well on a small campus," Youngblood said.

Jacksonville State University President Bill Meehan appointed a task force to review the best ways to get information to students, faculty and the public.

Meehan said it's when those systems are critical that they're under the greatest stress.

"Cell phones break down," he said. "That's going to continue to happen. The Internet is one of our best ways to reach people."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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