A Message from WPI President Dennis Berkey on the Tragedy at Virginia Tech

April 17, 2007

To Students, Faculty, Staff, and Trustees:

I have written to President Steger at Virginia Tech, expressing the deep horror and sadness, as well as sympathy and concern, that the entire WPI community feels in the wake of the nearly unspeakable tragedy of April 16. I noted our special concern for the families, friends, classmates, and teachers of those who perished, assuring him that the entire Virginia Tech family is in our thoughts and prayers.

I had asked Vice President Richardson to issue our first statement on this tragedy yesterday afternoon because she bears direct responsibility for our emergency response systems and policies. I want you to become accustomed to hearing directly from her in times of crisis, whether it be on our own campus or elsewhere. Let me now add a few details to yesterday's message, as we have been busily reviewing our security and crisis response capabilities and policies over the past 24 hours.

First, let me note that WPI has an extensive crisis response manual, training program, and assignment of responsibilities. The Campus Police Department reports to Vice President Richardson, and there is a clear understanding between their organizations of where authority and responsibility lie in times of crises. This line of authority is in parallel to the formal executive authority which runs from the President and CEO (me) to the Provost (currently John Orr) and then to the Vice President for Finance and Administration (Jeff Solomon). The Crisis Team will of course interact with the executive leadership as they are able in times of crisis, but they will not hesitate to act with dispatch in the best interests of the WPI community as need arises.

Second, we have carefully reviewed the communications capabilities of our Campus Police Department, including its ability to communicate efficiently with the Worcester Police Department. In this regard please note that the preferred means of crisis communication with the community, especially first notification, is via e-mail and the WPI website. We understand that not everyone has access to, or uses, e-mail as a preferred means of communication, but it is the most effective means of diffusing urgent information throughout the community. (Other means, such as radio and telephone trees, will also be used, but the most effective rapid communication would be via e-mail alert.)

Third, since her arrival Chief Martunas has undertaken a rigorous program of professional training for our entire Police Department, ensuring that they are well prepared to deal with the broad range of challenges in modern policing.

In closing I wish to remind everyone that counseling services are available on campus, and that your expressed support for each other remains vitally important. Even in these moments of shock and anguish, modernity's horrors should not detract from the enduring belief in the potential of mankind that lies at the core of our colleges and universities.

You have my heartfelt appreciation and best wishes.