How to Prevent a Tragedy

Tucked away in rural Southwest Virginia, remote Blacksburg is an unlikely spot for the worst school shooting in U.S. history. Nevertheless, an April 16 rampage by a mentally disturbed student, Seung-Hui Cho, left 32 people dead. In the wake of that tragedy, Virginia Tech has begun to make changes in its campus security, student-privacy policies and mental-health services. But it's not the only one. Here's what some institutions around the country are doing:

Campuswide Text Systems
In the aftermath of the shooting, many schools scrambled to devise systems that would allow them to issue campuswide text messages in the event of an emergency—something Virginia Tech was roundly criticized for not doing. Harvard, Penn State and Florida A&M are among the schools that now have such systems; some enable college police to monitor the locations of students on and off campus.

Anonymous Hot Lines
The University of Texas at Austin is among the schools with confidential hot lines for students and staff to report behavior exhibited by campus-community members that they find disturbing. The Austin line can also be used for urgent counseling. It's staffed around the clock.

Identifying Trouble
Washington University in St. Louis and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are among the schools that have focused on training faculty and staff to identify and help troubled students. "The gist of it is, 'Don't worry alone'," says Alan Glass, director of Washington University's student-health services. "We want them to bring anything that concerns them to our attention, so we can determine if we should potentially intervene."

Bulking Up Staff
Virginia Tech's mental-health center has expanded its staff since the tragedy, and for the first time hired case managers to keep track of challenging situations. It has also joined the ranks of colleges with a standing "threat-assessment team," made up of police, clinicians and school officials, to review cases that present a particularly compelling personal, campus or community threat, says Chris Flynn, who heads the university's mental-health services.