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Shootings Test Virginia Tech's Emergency Plan

From phone alerts to text messages, from classroom message boards to outdoor sirens, from the university website to Twitter, the emergency response system at Virginia Tech got its toughest test Thursday since the 2007 rampage that killed 33 people on that campus.

Shortly after noon, a routine traffic stop apparently went bad, leaving two dead: a police officer dead and the gunman who shot him. Virginia Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski told reporters that the school quickly turned to an alert system that was rebuilt since the shootings four years ago with a wide range of technologies.

"We deployed them all and we deployed them immediately to get the word out," he said.

The alerts advised students and faculty to stay where they were and for visitors to stay away from campus.

Corey Smith, a 19-year-old sophomore from Mechanicsville, Va., was among students who were notified. "It's crazy that someone would go and do something like that with all the stuff that happened in 2007," Smith told The Associated Press. He was headed to a dining hall near the site of one of the shootings when he got the alert and decided to stay inside.

Harry White, 20, a junior physics major, told the AP in a phone interview that he was in line for a sandwich at a Subway restaurant on campus when he got a text message alert about the shooting.

White said he didn't panic, thinking instead about a false alarm in August that locked down the campus after a report of a possible gunman. On Thursday, White used an indoor walkway to go to a computer lab in a nearby building, where he checked news reports.

"I decided to just check to see how serious it was. I saw it's actually someone shooting someone, not something false, something that looks like a gun," White said.

White said the campus was quieter than usual because classes ended Wednesday and students were preparing for the start of exams.

A report of a possible gunman at Virginia Tech on Aug. 4 set off the most extensive lockdown on campus before Thursday. No gunman was found that time, and the school gave the all-clear about five hours after the first alerts.

The system was also put to the test in 2008, when an exploding nail gun cartridge was mistaken for gunfire. But only one dorm was locked down during that emergency, and it reopened two hours later.

Thursday's shooting came on the same day that Virginia Tech was appealing a $55,000 fine by the U.S. Education Department in connection with the university's response to the 2007 rampage.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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