Campus and Workplace Violence Prevention
Recognizing and Assisting Someone in Distress
There are many behaviors and circumstances that may indicate an individual is at an increasing risk of violence or is in need of assistance.
Below are examples of warning signs to look for. These examples are NOT all-inclusive and are not intended to be used as a checklist.
If you regularly interact with an individual in our community, you can play an important role in early identification that they are in distress. Behaviors that may indicate an individual is in need of assistance include:
- Deterioration in physical appearance or hygiene.
- Significant academic or work style changes-- A student going from consistently passing gradues to frequent poor performance. Excessive absences or tardiness.
- Frequent requests for exceptions to policies and deadlines.
- Increased dependence on you--Students or coworkers scheduled numerous appointments. Remain after class to speak with you.
- Unusual patterns of interaction with others-- Showing aggressiveness, dominating conversations or displaying anxiety caused by having to interact with others. Acting extremely withdrawn.
- Unusual or exaggerated emotional responses that are inappropriate to the situation.
Indicators of Serious Depression could include:
- Low physical energy, apathy and lack of motivation
- Feelings of helplessness/hopelessness
- Feelings of inadequacy
- Interpersonal withdrawal
- Decline in self-care
- Noticeable changes in appetite- weight gain/loss
- Attempts to harm or kill self
- Unexplained increases in absenteeism
- Decreased performance in work or academics
- Resistance to change or reasonable limits
- Over-reaction to changes in policies/procedures
- Extreme or sudden changes in behaviors
- Numerous conflicts with others
- Difficulty learning from past behaviors or experiences
- Displays paranoia or distrust
- Alienates others or isolates self from others
- Makes statements indicating approval of use of violence to resolve a problem
- Identifies with or idolizes persons who have engaged in violence toward others.
An individual could potentially be at risk for suicidality if they experience or exhibit:
- History of previous suicide attempts or family history of suicide
- A sense of there being "no way out"
- Strong feelings of being a burden to others
- A recent situation involving intense embarassment, guilt or shame
- This could include poor or failing grades, academic or disciplinary suspension, criminal charges, etc.
- Tendencies towards poor impulse control, especially when combined with substance abuse
- Behaviors reflecting efforts to tie up loose ends or resolve their affairs
- This could include giving things away, writing a will, etc.
If an individual has a plan to kill themselves, a means and intent of carrying out their plan, their potential risk of suicide is high. Please contact the proper authorities.
Incidents of self-harm, such as intentionally cutting or burning oneself, often occurs when someone is having difficulty coping with their thoughts and feelings. If you notice marks that look like someone is self-harming, it is best to express your concerns in private and recommend that they get help.
If the individual is not interested in help, contact the appropriate resources for further consultation.
Certain precipitating events may trigger reactions. These events may be real, perceived or anticipated by the individual of concern.
- Losses, such as job/income, status, or significant other/relationship
- Perceived rejection or injustice
- Ostracized by others
- Health problems
- Recent traumatic events
If you encounter someone in distress, it can be beneficial to have a conversation with the individual to determine the best approach to help. When speaking with the individual:
- Speak privately. Inform a colleague or another appropriate individual about the meeting and ask for assistance if necessary.
- Express your concern and be direct. Let the individual know you are concerned for their welfare. Share your concerns in nonjudgmental terms and inquire about the individual's experience
- Listen carefully and be patient. While it is important to help the individual feel heard, seek a time out if the behavior escalates.
- Maintain clear physical boundaries. Do not physically touch the individual or try to force them to leave your office. End the meeting and/or get assistance if you feel it is not going in an appropriate direction.
- Offer to assist the individual in getting help. Provide information for appropriate resources and if appropriate, offer to walk them with them to the specific resource such as Cook Counseling Center.
- Recognize your limits and trust your instincts. Do not ignore the unusual behavior or involve yourself beyond the limits of your time and/or skill.
- Document the interaction and contact the appropriate university department. Do not promise confidentiality. If you suspect there is imminent need for intervention, call VTPD at 911 or the non-emergency phone number (540) 382-4343.
Preparing for an Emergency
Individual emergency preparedness is the first and most important step in creating a resilient university environment. There are three main protective actions that you may be required to perform during an emergency: secure-in-place, shelter-in-place, and evacuation. It is recommended that you familiarize yourself with these protective actions, making sure you know how and when to perform each.
Remember, always use good judgement. There are exceptions to all guidance and prescribed directions.
When it is necessary to secure-in-place, you will be the safest by placing a locked door or other barricade between you and the associated violence or danger.
What to do:
- REMAIN CALM
- If you are outside during a secure-in-place emergency you should seek cover in the nearest unlocked building.
- If the buildings in the immediate area have exterior doors that have been locked, continue to move away from the danger, seek cover, move to another building, or leave campus if it is safe to do so.
- Once inside, find an interior room and lock or barricade the doors.
- To minimize vulnerability, turn off lights, silence phones, draw blinds, and move away from windows.
- Await further instruction from VT Alerts and emergency personnel.
- Do not leave until an "All Clear" is received.
For more information, visit the Be Hokie Ready website.
Shelter-in-place events are usually weather related emergencies. When it is necessary to shelter-in-place, you will be safest by moving inside to a building space that protects you from the danger. Do not lock doors behind you as others may also need to shelter-in-place.
What to do:
- Remain calm
- Immediately seek shelter inside the closest sturdy building. Do not wait until you physically see a tornado or severe weather event to react.
- Resist the temptation to go outside and check the weather conditions yourself.
- Once inside, stay away from windows, glass, and unsecured objects that may fall.
- Seek shelter in interior rooms and corridors.
- Avoid large free-standing expanses such as auditoriums and gymnasiums.
- Do not use elevators.
- Await further instruction from VT Alerts and emergency personnel.
- Do not leave until an “All Clear” is received.
During a tornado, seek shelter on the lowest level possible. If warranted, consider crouching near the floor and seeking additional shelter under a sturdy desk or table, or cover your head with your hands.
For more information, visit the Be Hokie Ready website.
Determine in advance your nearest exit and emergency evacuation route. Establish an alternative way out in case the nearest exit is blocked or unsafe.
What to do:
- If time and conditions permit, secure your workplace and take with you important personal items such as your keys, purse, medication, or eye glasses.
- Follow instructions from emergency personnel.
- Check doors for heat before opening. Do not open a door if it feels hot.
- Walk – do not run. Do not push or crowd.
- Keep noise to a minimum, so you can hear emergency instructions.
- Use handrails in stairwells, and stay to the right.
- Assist people with disabilities.
- Move quickly away from the building.
- Head to your assembly point, unless otherwise instructed.
- Watch for falling glass and other debris.
- Keep roadways and walkways clear for emergency vehicles.
- If you have relocated away from the building, do not return until notified that it is safe to do so.
Note that it may or may not be wise to exit during an emergency. If the hazard is outdoors, it may be safer to shelter-in-place or just move to another part of the building. If there is a fire, leave immediately. Emergency response personnel may advise you which to do — evacuate or shelter-in-place — but if they don’t, let common sense be your guide.
To help prepare for emergencies, consult the Checklist for Planning Help in an Evacuation.
- Students with limitations that should be accommodated in an evacuation should contact Services for Students with Disabilities at 540-231-3788 (V) or 540-231-1740 (TTY).
- Employees with limitations that should be accommodated in an evacuation should contact Human Resources at 540-231-9331(V) or 540-231-7227 (TTY).
For more information on what to do during hazard-specific emergencies, check out Emergency Management's comprehensive list of emergency-specific guides:
If you are witness to violent acts or behavior, immediately move away from the incident and then dial 911 to notify the police department. If you hear about an incident on campus, please stay away from that area.
If you witness a person acting in an odd or unusual manner or a situation makes you feel uneasy, trust your instincts and report it.
- Do NOT physically confront the person.
- Do NOT let anyone into a locked building or office.
- Do NOT block the person's access to an exit.
- DIAL 911. Provide as much information as possible about the person and their direction of travel. In your description of the person, include age, race, clothing, height, weight, gender, hair and eye color, weapons and any other descriptors you noticed.
If a suspicious person is standing at your car, or near a parking spot, just keep going. When it appears to be safe, return to your vehicle and look around and inside your vehicle before getting in.
If you see a vehicle that appears to be suspicious, immediately dial 911. Suspicious vehicles might include:
- Missing or forged license plates
- Covered or taped windows
- Any vehicle that seems overloaded or has any substance leaking from it
- Any vehicle containing drums, barrels or other bulk containers
- Parked illegally, parked at an unusual location or appears abandoned
When calling 911, give the dispatcher the following information:
- Tell the dispatcher you are at Virginia Tech and give the exact location of the vehicle in question.
- A description of the vehicle, including license plate, vehicle color, vehicle make, model and any other distinguishing features.
- Your full name and telephone number, in case you are disconnected.
If you believe that you have encountered a suspicious package or envelope:
- From a safe location, notify the police department immediately by DIALING 911.
- Move people away from the package and limit access to the area.
- DO NOT move or open the package.
- DO NOT investigate too closely.
- DO NOT cover, insulate or place the package into a cabinet or drawer.
For more information about what to do in the event of receiving suspicious mail, review the VT Emergency Management Suspicious Mail/Package guidelines.
If you receive a call, note or ask details such as:
- Where is the bomb?
- When is the bomb going to go off?
- What kind of bomb is it and what does it look like?
- What will cause the bomb to go off?
Also take note of the qualities and characteristics of the caller's voice, such as calm or stressed, giggling, accent, disguised, etc. Also note if the voice sounded familiar or if there were any background noises.
If a written threat of an explosive device or other danger is received, contact the police immediately by DIALING 911. The threat should never be ignored.
For more information, visit VT Emergency Management's Bomb Threat emergency guide.
An active shooter is considered to be a suspect or assailant whose activity is immediately causing serious injury or death. The incident can involve one or more shooters. It can be a close encounter or from a distance. It can be targeted at a student, faculty/staff, or a random victim. It might involve just one room or multiple locations. No two situations are alike and a shooting can occur anytime, anywhere, and involve anyone.
If there is an active shooter, try to remain calm and have a survival mindset. If you are able, attempt to Secure-in-place immediately.
If you are in an open area, immediately seek protection:
Run: If you know the location of the shooter and there appears to be a safe route immediately available, then proceed quickly and safely. If you decide to evacuate, do not spend time convincing others. Encourage them as necessary, but keep moving. Do not attempt to remove injured person(s). Leave your belongings behind, you will be able to retrieve those items as a later time. Follow instructions of any first responders on scene as you exit.
Hide: If you decide not to run, and cannot secure-in-place: try to place yourself somewhere out of view. Find an object large enough to shield you and provide protection from a bullet. If you choose to hide, leave yourself multiple exits to avoid cornering yourself.
Fight: If running or hiding are no longer options, you should prepare yourself to fight back. This is dangerous, but depending on your situation, this could be your last option. If you find yourself in this situation act with extreme aggression. Take objects around you to utilize as improvised weapons. If your only option is to fight, commit to taking the shooter down, no matter what.
Remember, always use common sense. Every situation is unique and not every suggestion will apply. Do what is necessary to protect yourself and others.
To Report an emergency, call 9-1-1 immediately. On or off-campus, calling 9-1-1 is the best way to ask for help fast (police, fire, rescue, and emergency medical services).
When dialing 911, DO NOT hang up! Be prepared to provide as much information as possible:
- WHERE: Where is the incident taking place? Where are you located? Where is the assailant?
- WHO: What does the assailant(s) look like? Do you recognize the assailant? Do you know their name?
- WHAT: What is the assailant carrying? What type of weapon(s) did you see? A handgun, rifle, or explosive? Were they carrying a backpack, bag or carrying case? What did it look like? What did you hear before, during and after the confrontation? Explosions? Gunshots?
- HOW: How is the assailant communicating? What language is being use? What threats or commands are being said?
After alerting authorities about an emergency/threat, please keep the following in mind:
- The Virginia Tech Police Department will immediately respond to the area, assisted by other local law enforcement agencies if necessary.
- Remember that help is on the way so try to remain calm.
- Law enforcement will first locate, contain, and stop the assailant(s).
- Remain inside a secure area. The safest place for you to be is in a secure room.
- The assailant may not flee when law enforcement arrives, but instead may target arriving officers.
- Once the threat is neutralized, Law Enforcement and Emergency Medical Services will begin care for victims and evacuation of the area. Be prepared to explain this to others.
- You may be searched, instructed to keep your hands on your head or even placed in handcuffs. Do your best to cooperate.
- After evacuation, you may be taken to a triage or other holding area for medical care, interviewing, counseling, etc.
Key Safety Resources
The Virginia Tech Police Department strives to enhance the safety and quality of life for students, faculty, staff and visitors through effective law enforcement and proactive crime prevention in partnership with the university community.
The goal of Virginia Tech Emergency Management is to build, improve, and sustain university resilience, departmental readiness, and individual preparedness. The office takes an all-hazards approach to continuously further the capability of the Virginia Tech community to plan for, mitigate against, respond to, and recover from an incident or emergency.
If you are concerned about yourself or any Virginia Tech student being (or becoming) suicidal, please call the Cook Counseling Center at 540-231-6557. This number can be used during regular office hours or after-hours to speak with a counselor.
Visit Cook's website to locate additional resources.
The Virginia Tech community is dedicated to ending and preventing sexual violence while supporting the survivors of sexual violence.
List of Student Resources
List of Employee Resources
Virginia Tech employees have many resources to support their success and well-being:
If an employee would like to know their options about counseling, they should visit the Employee Assistance Program. EAP offers professional help if you or a family member is experiencing alcohol or drug problems, family or relationship troubles, emotional difficulties, stress-related problems, parenting concerns, conflicts at work or home, or other personal concerns.
If an employee is engaged in conflict involving another individual in the community, employees can utilize the Conflict Resolution/Mediation Program.
Environmental Health and Safety actively promotes a positive, responsible, integrated safety culture at all levels of the university community, advocates providing a safe and healthy living, learning, and working environment for all, and assists departments with complying with regulations and mandates.
The Graduate School has multiple resources to specifically support graduate students in our community. The Graduate Student Ombudsperson is a confidential resource that helps members of the Graduate School community engage in and manage conflict in a constructive way. Additional resources for support include:
The Heads Up Hokies campaign encourages Hokies and community members traveling across campus on foot, bike, or by bus or car to be safe by keeping their heads up and paying attention to their surroundings.
For more information about Parking and Transportation at Virginia Tech, visit here.
Student Conduct partners with community members to address student and student organization conduct that is inconsistent with university expections.
- Individuals can submit information to Student Conduct regardless of the referring individual's affiliation with the university.
- Student Conduct staff members can help individuals pursue No Contact Orders with active students at the university. For more information contact Student Conduct via email or call (540) 231-3790.
Student Legal Services at Virginia Tech (SLS at VT) provides free and confidential legal advice to currently enrolled Virginia Tech students and Virginia Tech registered student organizations (RSOs) at the Blacksburg campus. VCOM students at the Blacksburg campus are also eligible. The legal services at SLS are provided by a VA licensed attorney in good standing with the VA State Bar, and are funded from a portion of the student activity fee paid by the Blacksburg campus students.
The SLS attorney provides legal advice on a variety of matters such as, but not limited to, leases, criminal charges, traffic violations, contracts, employment, consumer issues, immigration, etc. Also, the attorney can prepare basic legal documents such as wills, powers of attorney, and some contracts. Limited advice and assistance is provided in tax, and family law matters, such as divorce and custody. If the matter is such that the SLS attorney cannot help you, the attorney will try and provide you with referrals for outside lawyers who can assists you.
The Cranwell International Center assists all international visitors in adjusting to life in the Virginia Tech community. The staff at the Cranwell International Center provides advocacy and assistance to anyone in need that has an international focus.
To see community resources specifically for International Students, please visit Cranwell's website.
If you are an international member of the community or you are a member of the community working with an individual from another country, please feel free to contact the International Center via email or call (540) 231-6527.
Virginia Tech's Women's Center provides free counseling and advocacy services to students, faculty and staff who have been impacted by Gender- based Violence.
If you have an emergency or need to speak to someone immediately and the Women’s Center is closed, please contact the Women’s Resource Center of the NRV 24 –hour hotline at (540) 639-1123.
If your safety is in jeopardy, please call 911.
- National Capital Region
- Hampton Roads & Richmond Centers
- Roanoke and Southwest Center
- Leesburg and Middleburg Centers
Other local resources include:
- Montgomery Country Sheriff's Office: 540-382-6915
MCSO Crime Prevention
Northern Virginia Center:
- Fairfax County Police Department: 703-691-2131 or 911 for an emergency.
- Crisis Link Hotline: 703-527-4077 or text "Connect" to 85511
- Center for Family Services, VT/NVC: 703-538-8470
- Office for Women & Domestic & Sexual Violence Services Hotline: 703-538-8470
- Fairfax County Alcohol & Drug: 703-359-7040
- Fairfax-Falls Church Mental Health Services: 703-573-5679
- Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management: 573-350-1000
Virginia Tech Research Center- Arlington:
- Arlington County Police Department: 703-558-2222 or 911 for an emergency.
- Arlington County Community Services Board: 703-228-4871
- Women's Center Northern Virginia: 703-281-2657
Washington Alexandria Center:
- Alexandria Police Department: 703-838-444 or 911 for an emergency.
- Rape Survivors Hotline: 703-683-7273 (24 hour hotline)
Roanoke Carilion School of Medicine:
- Carilion Clinic Police and Security: 540-981-7911 or 911 for an emergency
- Roanoke City Police Department: 540-853-2212
Roanoke Higher Education Center:
- Roanoke City Police Department: 540-853-2212 or 911 for an emergency
- Sexual Assault Response/Awareness: 540-345-7273
Steger Center for International Scholarship in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland:
- Canton Ticino Police (Polizia Cantonle): 117 (emergency service available 24/7)
- Police-Ambulance-Fire service: 112
- Emergency Ambulance in Switzerland: 144
- Fire Department in Switzerland: 118 (emergency only)
- US to Switzerland: 011 41 91 848 25 55 55
Marion DuPont Scott Ewuine Medical Center in Leesburg:
- Loudoun County Sheriff's Office: 703-777-0407 or 911 for an emergency
- (LAWS) Sexual Assault Services: 703-777-6552
- Loudoun County Survivor/Witness Services: 703-777-0417
- Virginia Statewide Hotline (Family Violence & Sexual Assault): 800-838-8238
- Loudoun County Mental Health: 703-771-5100
- Fauquier County Sheriff's Office: 540-422-8600 or 911 for an emergency
- Rape Surviviors Hotline: 703-683-7373 (24 hour hotline)