What are the cost to a University during an emergency?

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What are the cost to a University during an emergency?

Hello! Thanks for your question about determining the costs to a University during an emergency, particularly related to a 24-hour emergency lock down. The short version is that campuses do not provide information about their expenditures regarding particular events unless a big audit takes place, which was the case after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. For that event, I've been able to provide exact costs of the shooting and the following lock down which amounted to $38,774,370. Below you will find a deep dive of my findings.


Our first step was to make sure I found a case where a 24-hour lock down at a University happened and enough financial data was provided for us to estimate the costs of that happening in the future at another University. I then searched for a comprehensive list of U.S. campus security and crisis management sources that could provide insight into how such lock downs are dealt with and what types of costs would occur. Our research provides details into the Virginia Tech lock down and the improvements made since, and lists another shooting that had significantly lesser costs in 2015. Alongside that, additional information regarding campus security investments and recommendations are provided.


Overall, campuses are very safe. Most of the data that is available regarding financial costs is about the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 that took away 32 lives and which is often referred to as the 9/11 of campus security and was used as an example for other universities and colleges to use as a template for their emergency response plans. Between legal, community recovery and victim services the total cost of the shooting and the following lock down was $38,774,370, and the overall cost including the after effects climbed to $47,640,020 for the state of Virginia. Worth noting is that for the year 2014/2015, Virginia State reported to have enrolled 31,000 students, with numbers not changing significantly in the last ten years. Out of the 31,000 enrolled: 8,902 undergrad students live in residence halls and 18,650 have dining plans.

The breakdown of the immediate costs of the shooting is as follows: $1.8 million for the cleanup, staff and classroom relocation, and renovations to the campus, and $531,000 for the response and investigation by the Virginia state police. The rest of costs occurred as a result of how big of a tragedy the shooting was. For instance, only costs for communications with families, media and emergency services rose to over $2 million dollars. If the tragedy was lesser, the costs would be much smaller as it would have not gained such a huge attention and media scrutiny.

The total costs reported by the University that include measures taken to ensure a tragedy like this doesn't happen again are as following:
Safety and security $11,401,794
Facilities and equipment $6,391,451
Communications $2,519,264
Legal and data retention $4,791,702
Archiving $324,258
Family services $2,747,138
Campus health and wellness $7,426,361
Other operational impacts $3,172,402

Important to note is that in the case of this shooting, the University twice alarmed all students and staff of the danger by sending out emails. The second email alert stated: “A gunman is loose on campus. Stay in buildings until further notice. Stay away from all windows.” After the shooting, Virginia Tech introduced a new alert system in case of emergency that is available for all 35,000 students and staff that are considered "users" of the University system. The system costs $33,000 a year to operate. Students are required to register with the new system to receive messages in case of emergencies. Registration can be done by providing a mobile phone number, e-mail address(es), or instant messaging system to be contacted in an
emergency. Other numbers such as close friends or family can be added and each user is allowed to determine the priority order in which their devices are to be called. The message will cascade
through the hierarchy set by each user until it gets answered. The system can reach the whole hierarchy in under a minute. Similar systems have since then been introduced in other university and it is since then federally mandated that every university have a rapid response communication plan to inform students of events via SMS, email and now apps. The system costs for other universities are hard to uncover as they are embedded in the public safety budgets or communications budgets or operation budgets making it impossible to pinpoint an exact cost.

The most recent shooting happened at a community college in Oregon in 2015 and left 10 people dead. The college received a $6.1 million grant to rebuild the space where the shooting took place, and also to strengthen their security measures. Out of that money, $30,000 will go towards paying the newly appointed police officer that will patrol the campus 35 hours a week.

Overall, the largest cost will be associated with a lock down in case of a shooting or another such traumatic event will be hiring more police, legal fees associated with liability and negligence on behalf of the institution and trauma services for students.

Additionally, investments in campus security grow by double digits in the last couple of years. The following data can be used as an argument for investing in the system rather than putting more money into unnecessary security measures. The number of full-time campus law enforcement officers across the U.S. grew 16% between 2005 and 2012. Alongside that, in the past three years, 65% of colleges have increased their public safety budgets. It is estimated that by 2018 campus security spending will exceed $400 million a year.

Finally, I decided to include recommendations from the former vice president of university relations at Penn State, who witnessed an incident of students creating mass hysteria over a shooting that never happened. After witnessing such an event, he created an essay with a series of guidelines that could be useful to the client in presentation of the software. The recommendations are as follows:
"1. Teach students to ask themselves if the source of an emergency warning can be trusted.
2. Clean up any problem with emergency alert mistakes. They happen often.
3. Campus officials need to get it right every time. If you are going to invest millions in an emergency alert system, make sure it works and works fast -- and that people trust it.
4. Consider creating a continuing public-service campaign aimed at training students and staff to post information to a campus safety message board that is continuously monitored. Such a system allows for a digital conversation in real time with those who are panicked, upset or misinformed. If your university-branded Facebook page or Twitter feed already has a huge following, that may be the place for everyone to meet online."


Virginia Tech shooting, which is often referred to as the 9/11 of campus security, and the following lock down cost the University a staggering amount of $38,774,370. Campuses are incredibly safe now and as a result of Virginia Tech it was mandated to have an effective communications strategy in the event of an emergency. As it was a federal guideline, schools complied. Now with smart phones, most universities have invested in apps to rapidly communicate with students. There are a lot of variables to this question as every place is different and every emergency is different. Overall, the largest cost will be associated with hiring more police, legal fees associated with liability and negligence on behalf of the institution and trauma services for students. Thanks for using Wonder! Please let us know if we can help with anything else!