Virginia Tech Tragedy: Human Nature & Networks


Virginia Tech Tragedy: Human Nature & Networks


By Aaron Mannes

While the Virginia Tech tragedy has spawned the predictable media frenzy, there has - so far - been an admirable lack of speculation about the killer, his motives, or what this event says about American society. Leftist philosopher Herbert Marcuse once observed, "Not every problem someone has with his girlfriend is necessarily due to the capitalist mode of production." Humans are complicated and there are dark places in the human soul that will emerge. Sometimes ideologies and causes will spark these evil inclinations. But they exist and have emerged in every time and place.

Knowing that tragedies are part of the human experience - whether from natural or man-made causes - it is essential to take proper steps to ameliorate their impact. Dwight Eisenhower once observed, "Plans are nothing; planning is everything." Predicting the exact shape of the next tragedy is rarely possible. But the processes of preparing for some kinds of disasters and attacks will help develop the systems and habits necessary to respond to whatever fate throws. Lives were saved on 9/11 because some WTC tenants had consistently practiced evacuation techniques in the wake of the 1993 bombing.

University Presidents are akin to mayors. Universities are attractive targets and favorable locations for a variety of adverse events (violent attacks, disease outbreaks, criminal activity, and mass disturbances.) Undoubtedly yesterday's tragedy will increase interest in disaster planning at universities. One factor that should become central to planning is the ubiquity of mobile communications technology. Students texted each other to stay abreast of events and of course, there is the now famous celphone video. Properly harnessed this technology could have been an invaluable resource - not only for informing the students and public about evolving events - but for helping authorities locate the injured and track the killer's movements.

This is the age of the network, and the ability of people to quickly form networks and exchange information is an integral part of disaster response and mitigation. In the wake of Katrina, evacuees formed online communities to support each other emotionally and also through practical measures. We have seen the bad guys (terrorists and criminals) and commercial interests make creative use of communications technology to organize internally and get their message out externally. There is no reason the good guys can't do the same.

April 17, 2007 11:08 AM

Original Source: Counterterrorism Blog
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Aaron Mannes




Brent Jesiek




Aaron Mannes, “Virginia Tech Tragedy: Human Nature & Networks,” The April 16 Archive, accessed June 27, 2022,