Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Virginia Tech and Peoria's EMS

Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Peoria Journal Star Editorial

Virginia Tech is known as a football and engineering school, but never have so many Monday-morning quarterbacks descended upon one institution to do so much reconstructing. The worst mass shooting murder in the nation's history was just a few hours old, but already the blame game was in full throttle, going something like this:

Tech administrators waited too long to notify students after the first pair of shooting victims at a college dormitory. They were wrong to view that initial incident as an isolated case of domestic violence. They should have locked down campus and canceled classes immediately. They should have evacuated all 26,000 students, 10,000 employees, thousands of visitors. E-mails were a poor way of communicating with students; they should have been notified of the danger by cell phone. All involved should resign.

This might not have happened at all if someone had intervened more forcefully with Cho Seung-Hui, the 23-year-old South Korean identified as the shooter and described as "troubled" and a "loner." Perhaps the senior English major's professors should have done more than refer him to a counselor when they read some of his disturbing writings. Maybe his roommate should have seen this coming. Maybe his doctor should have red-flagged university officials, since Cho reportedly was on medication for depression. Maybe immigration officials never should have let his family into the country in the first place ... back in 1992. This just goes to show that it's too easy to get a gun in Virginia. This just goes to show it should be easier to get a gun in Virginia. We've just begun to mourn the 32 victims - we don't even know all their names - yet already there's talk of lawsuits.

No wonder VT Police Chief Wendell Flinchum seemed exasperated: "You can second-guess all day. We acted on the best information we had at the time." And maybe the critics should focus on the guy who pulled the trigger.

Virginia Tech officials and police were damned if they did and damned if they didn't Monday, which is why the only fair response to their decision-making was the one given by Bradley University Vice President Gary Anna on Tuesday: "It's too early" to say what lessons can be derived from this massacre.

Of course the Blacksburg, Va., situation has heightened awareness in Peoria, where Bradley has emergency protocols in place, said Anna. Those include general response parameters, but it still comes down to "a judgment call," because every case is unique, he said.

"It is just so unsettling because our young people are under a lot of pressure and it's just hard sometimes to anticipate what might trigger something like that," said Anna. Bradley would go on lockdown immediately "if we had a discharge of firearms in any part of the campus and had any reason to doubt whether or not the person had been apprehended," he said. "It's just not worth putting in harm's way an 18- to 22-year-old."

But Anna acknowledges that the dynamics are very different at BU's much more concentrated campus, home to approximately 6,000, mostly residential students compared to more than four times that number - including a significant percentage of commuters - at sprawling VT. BU officials are looking at some different form of alarm system beyond the standard emails or residence hall staff going door to door, perhaps using their electronic carillon system. Even then, there's no guarantee that college students "with their own sense of immunity" will listen, said Anna.

Bradley's full-time police force of some 15 members continues to do its job, but it's "not as if you can put an armed guard at every building entrance," he said.
Parents may not want to hear it - who can blame them? - but in fact all of us live with a degree of risk. While we can no longer say that slaughters such as these are incomprehensible, it's impossible to plan for every conceivable nightmare.

Our "monsters" don't necessarily look the part. It seems to be coded into America's DNA that we need answers to our tragedies now, cause and effect wrapped up neatly in a two-hour, made-for-TV movie. We may never know why.

What we do know is that there was heroism mixed in with the horrific in Blacksburg, and that we will learn from this, as we learned from Columbine, in time.


There is 1 comment
John A. Carroll, M.D.
April 18, 2007 - 12:07
Subject: Mass Casualty
The Journal Star editorial is asking: What can be learned from the disaster at Virginia Tech?

What if this massacre had occurred at Bradley University in Peoria?

Peoria’s EMS system would be inadequate to suddenly care for 48 injured people. The Peoria Fire Department is Basic Life Support-D with Basic drugs. They cannot provide paramedic service for Peoria. They have no ambulances and cannot transport patients. Transport may be the single most important issue with severe trauma.

Advanced Medical Transport is the only paramedic transport agency in Peoria. If they responded to a mass casualty who would cover the rest of Peoria for people that call 911 with significant medical emergencies?

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