Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Universal Precautions and Virginia Tech

The church I serve as Pastor has a health & safety policy that we have adopted. It is commonly known as “Universal Precautions.”

What this means is that, when we must interact with bodily fluids such as blood we always presume that it is infected with the AIDs virus or hepatitis or some other serious contagion. This way we always approach the child’s cut (for example) with the highest possible caution. We wear latex or other protective gloves, we use a dilute bleach solution to clean up areas that may have been contaminated and so on.

We know that it is very unlikely that anyone with a bleeding cut is infected with HIV or hepatitis and that even if they were the chances of transferring that infection to another person is slight. BUT, we always presume the worse in order to protect our preschool teachers, office staff and church members.

In a related matter, whenever we see a police helicopter circling the area where our Preschool is located we immediately order a “lock-down” of our children in their classrooms. In the past we have had bank robbers escape from our neighborhood banks by hopping our school fence and cutting through our play area. We have increased the height of our fence in recent years to prevent this from happening again but, when we see a police helicopter nearby we do not take any chances. We gather the children into a safe place.

I have no doubt that the health services and medical personnel at Virginia Tech are well-trained in the policy of “Universal Precautions.”

It is sad and disappointing, however, that this same preventive measure was not taken in regards to yesterday’s tragic shooting.

In order to protect the students, staff and others on campus that day there should have been a policy in place to immediately secure the safety of everyone and to inform them of the nature of the threat.

It is human nature to generally assume the best. In the case of Virginia Tech it was (fatally) assumed that the shooter had finished his business for the day after he had shot and killed two students in the dormitory.

The concept behind “Universal Precautions,” however, corrects this natural inclination, by forcing us to presume the worst-case scenario and to be prepared to deal with it should it come to pass.

The evil spirit and broken mind of the student assassin was the “infection” that was set loose on the Virginia Tech campus yesterday. This “virus” carried two handguns and was well equipped and prepared to do serious injury to others.

Had the Virginia Tech administration, the campus security and local law enforcement practiced “Universal Precautions” after the initial killings yesterday it is quite possible, indeed likely, that the killer’s freedom to move about and choose his next targets could have been significantly reduced.

Along with most commentators I place the ultimate responsibility for this tragedy on the young man who did the killing. On the other hand, I pray that the three university campuses where my three daughters will be attending next year have campus security plans that include the concept of “Universal Precautions.”