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A case study of the law enforcement/emergency medical services response to the Virginia Tech mass casualty incident on April 16, 2007

Matthew Lloyd Collins, PhD


The April 16, 2007, shooting rampage on the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) campus, carried out by Seung-Hui Cho, was the worst gun-related massacre in the history of the United States. The purpose of this article is twofold. First, it examines the emergency management literature on interagency communication, collaboration, and coordination as it relates to the Virginia Tech mass casualty incident (MCI). Second, the article presents a single instrumental case study that focuses on the bounded case of the Virginia Tech MCI. Through multiple sources of data collection to include observations, interviews, and document analysis, this study found that 14 law enforcement agencies and 13 emergency medical services agencies responded to the Virginia Tech MCI. With only two exceptions, the law enforcement agencies involved in the response to this MCI responded informally or self-deployed (arrived without being dispatched). However, all of the emergency medical services agencies that responded were formally dispatched. Lessons learned from the emergency management literature review and the case study will be discussed. In conclusion, policy recommendations, which will be generalizable to other rural university campuses and rural organizational settings, will be made.


mass casualty incident, Virginia Tech, shooting

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