Safety protocol at Utah's colleges and universities is stepping up a year after the fatal shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

On the one-year anniversary of the tragic deaths of 32 students and faculty members at the Blacksburg, Va., university, more than 200 schools nationwide are adopting a training video to help in the case a similar situation were to occur on their campuses.

Campus and workplace violence has prompted the action by dozens of universities, along with corporate conglomerates.

In Utah, Brigham Young University, Utah State University and Westminster College have opted into the program, titled "Shots Fired: When Lightning Strikes," in order to be more prepared.

"You just hope you're doing the training for something that never happens, but we just want people to have it in the back of their minds just in case," said USU Chief of Police Steve Mecham. He said all school employees will see the video.

"It's a bit unsettling that it could happen, but we need to prepare for the worst," Mecham said.

Like most of the institutions of higher education in Utah and elsewhere, the events that occurred in April 2007 at Virginia Tech caused each to boost their security and safety policies and procedures.

Mecham said USU's policy is a "living document," ever-changing to adapt to new and challenging circumstances. Most recently, the school has issued a brochure to the campus community, detailing emergency procedures. Training, including the video, is ongoing.

At BYU, safety and security are still evolving, said Carrie Jenkins, director of communications. A task force there has already put some systems in place, while the "Shots Fired" video will be made available to any and all students who choose to view it.

"Shots Fired," which was launched last September, provides guidance on how to recognize an active shooter incident. An initial individually licensed copy of the video is provided for $495, and producers say it is well worth the investment as workplace violence costs employers and university administrators $36 billion and affects 2 million Americans every year. Colleges, universities and ministry outreach organizations can obtain special licensing.

"The goal of 'Shots Fired' is to equip everyday Americans with a survival mindset to quickly evaluate options and make lifesaving decisions during an active shooter or hostage incident," said Randy Spivey, executive director of the Center for Personal Protection and Safety and creator of the "Shots Fired" DVD and training program.

Jenkins said for some, the contents of the video will provide answers and "ease their nerves."

New and more thorough means of mass communication with students, faculty and staff will hopefully prevent shortcomings that occurred with the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Multiple methods are written into a campus plan, including not only e-mail, but text messaging and telephone tree, to more quickly disperse "in case of emergency" information, Jenkins said.

"Every little bit of information helps in a situation like that," she said. Currently, guns are not allowed on BYU's campus. Concealed weapons are, however, permissible at the campuses of all 10 Utah public institutions.

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This year, legislators gave the Utah System of Higher Education more than $800,000 to spend on various and necessary upgrades for campus security systems. According to the USHE, the money can be spent in a number of ways, including additional training and preparations.

April marks some of America's darkest anniversaries, including Virginia Tech, Columbine and Oklahoma City. Although tragic, the mass shootings have drawn attention to public and personal safety and security issues nationwide, which Jenkins said is a "good start" to protecting our country's greatest assets — its people.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com