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Virginia Tech changes tower policy in light of Notre Dame tragedy

The Virginia Tech football program has quickly moved to formalize its policy on filming practices in light of the tragic death of 20-year-old Notre Dame student Declan Sullivan this week. On Wednesday afternoon, Sullivan was killed when a a hydraulic scissor lift from which he was filming Fighting Irish practice toppled over because of high winds.

Kevin Hicks, Virginia Tech's director of visual and broadcast communications who oversees the filming of Hokies practices, got a phone call Thursday morning from Coach Frank Beamer asking him to come up with a formal procedure for dealing with wind. Virginia Tech typically has four students filming every practice, and some do so from two hydraulic scissor lifts similar to the one used at Notre Dame.

Using manufacturer's guidelines, Hicks determined that the cut-off for filming practice on the lifts will be 28 mph. The Hokies also film from a more stable, 50-foot tower-like structure that has passed inspections and isn't susceptible to heavy winds.

"In the 15 years I’ve been here it’s always been a topic of discussion. I think we just went on common sense more than hard numbers. We put it in writing now," said Hicks, adding that every student and athletic department official who could potentially use the hydraulic lifts will now have to receive formal certification before doing so.

At Notre Dame, Sullivan fell over because of winds that were reported to be in the 50- to 60-mph range. On his Twitter account, Sullivan described the conditions as "terrifying."

Hicks said he's also come up with a written document that students will now sign saying they can come down at any time with no repercussions if they feel the conditions are too dangerous.

“It’s definitely an awakening that we need to be more careful," Hicks said. "It’s tragic, but it’s really a surprising thing that it could actually happen. The wind here was about 14 miles per hour [on Friday] and it would gust up some, but I thought it was too windy. I can’t imagine 50 or 60 miles per hour."

By Mark Giannotto  | October 30, 2010; 1:52 PM ET
 
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