November 27, 2007

Slow response deserves explanation

Unfortunately, the University failed its first test on the use of its campus alert system.

A shooting within the confines of UCPD patrols is no different from a gunman roaming on campus. No one can predict and warn against random violence, but occurrences of urban crimes tend to track the movement of perpetrators in a specific time and space. Thus, immediately on learning about the first shooting of 12:33 a.m., the University should have issued an alert. Nearly an hour later, at 1:26 a.m., Cisse, who lived a block away, might have been able to plan his activities differently.

Each individual can better assess his environment with immediate alerts—even with incomplete information—than with delayed responses from overly cautious officials. That is why the alert plan must be automated—so that vital decisions are not left to administrators trying to figure out the right course of action under stress.

Explanations from various University officials of the nine-hour delay defy common sense, and, as widely quoted in various media sources, even sound hard-hearted.

If officials were reacting as individual parents having just heard about a shooting, knowing that their children lived nearby, they would have immediately called their loved ones just to say “heads up.” A campus alert system should be no less than that.

Let’s hope that the University will never be tested again, but let’s hope even more that the next time it is put to the test, the University will react with greater immediacy.

Ping Hin Yu

A.B. 1990

A.M. 1998