Northern Illinois University Addresses Security Concerns

Feb 19, 2008 3:46 PM

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After a gunman shot and killed five students and himself at Northern Illinois University (NIU) last week, questions and concerns are being voiced about the school's security and method of communication.

According to the Associated Press, many students phoned each other and sent text messages even before school officials could warn them.

Drew Creal, a sophomore from St. Charles, was in a building next to Cole Hall when students around him began receiving text messages from other students that read, "There's shooting in Cole Hall" and "Get off campus," he says.

But although these students saw errors in their university's system, the AP reports that within 20 minutes of the shooting, officials posted a message on the school's Web site about a report of a possible gunman on campus and warning students to "get to a safe area and take precautions until given the all clear."

By 3:40 p.m. NIU officials canceled classes and closed the campus as part of a new security plan created after a student at Virginia Tech killed 32 people last year.

The Kishwaukee Community Hospital was also on point, as its Web site also quickly provided updates on the number of injured arriving from the campus.

And even though an e-mail was sent to university students and staff, Christian Crum, a student, received it more than an hour after the shooting began. "The e-mail wouldn't have been that helpful," Crum says.

Michael Gentile, a media studies instructor who was meeting with students directly beneath the lecture hall when the shootings occurred, is a bit less critical of the campus police and administration, saying that he doubts they could have done more than they did to alert students and others on campus.

"Knowing that the campus, maybe it was within 20 minutes, was in lockdown," he told the AP. "Information can only travel so fast. ... I think NIU's response was as good as any institution could be when somebody decides to shoot up a classroom."

Now that the situation has ended and healing begins, Melanie Magara, the chief spokesperson for Northern Illinois University addressed the media to speak about what the university is doing to move forward.

"What I'm here to talk to you about is what the university is doing as we move forward and begin to resume operations," she said in a conference.

According to The Northern Star, the student newspaper of NIU, Magara read a letter from NIU President John Peters that had been e-mailed to students, faculty and staff. "Our campus family has endured a tragedy of unfathomable proportions this week," the letter read.

As for the resumption of operations, faculty and staff were asked to return to work this week to receive information and training to help students to resume classes. Classes are scheduled to resume next week.

"The emergency team convened by the president has been working quite hard at some very practical issues that have to do with the reopening of our university, have to do with the resumption of classes and have to do with the return to normalcy to the extent that there can be a return to normalcy after an event of these horrific proportions," Magara said.

Campus security was the final issue addressed in the letter, stating that all resources are focused on campus security and physical police presence on campus. "The issue...we're getting is certainly the reality of security, Magara said. "The checking of buildings, but also the physical presence. We recognize that the campus to which our students, faculty and our staff will be returning is one that may experience continuing sense of nervousness."

According to The Northern Star, Magara stressed the importance of police presence on campus to ensure a feeling of safety among students and staff. "In addition to the actual stepped-up security measures, we also want to make sure that our police officers are very visible and in buildings and particularly in and around student areas," Magara said.

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