NIU response helped by Virginia Tech lessons


NIU response helped by Virginia Tech lessons


Doug Finke
GateHouse News Service
Fri Feb 15, 2008, 09:31 PM EST

SPRINGFIELD, IL - Northern Illinois University's response to Thursday's shooting rampage may have been helped by what state officials learned from last year's massacre at Virginia Tech University.

A Campus Safety Task Force was created to see what could be learned from the Virginia Tech incident and how those lessons could be implemented here.
Representatives from state colleges and universities, including NIU, attended task force meetings. One of the most important lessons discussed was getting information to students as quickly as possible.

"The response at Northern Illinois, from our standpoint, was extraordinary," said Mike Chamness, chairman of the Illinois Terrorism Task Force.

Students were notified within 20 minutes that a shooting occurred, to take cover and stay away from some parts of the campus, Chamness said. At Virginia Tech, it took more than two hours to issue an alert.

Students at NIU also were relaying text messages to each other. One idea discussed by the task force was that colleges should use multiple means to convey an emergency message to students, including encouraging the use of text messaging.

Rep. Rich Myers, R-Colchester, said Western Illinois University in his district just went through a drill to notify students in case of emergency.

"They sent text messages to cell phones, voice mail, e-mail," Myers said. "As I understand it, it was a very successful test."

What to do after an emergency is only part of the task force's responsibility. It is also examining prevention. A full report is scheduled to be delivered April 1.

"A mental health survey is still being completed," Chamness said. "That purpose is to look at ways to identify potential issues and how to deal with those, how to get help to those people."

That will probably require the assistance of students themselves.

"Be alert. If you see something that looks suspicious, don't be shy or embarrassed about picking up the phone and calling law enforcement authorities," Chamness advised. "You may be the person who helps prevent something."

At the same time, Chamness said there didn't seem to be the "red flags" in the NIU case that there were at Virginia Tech.

"I don't think there's a panacea out there for how you stop this," he said. "You're talking about somebody who walked into a classroom."

Chamness said state officials will meet with NIU staff in coming weeks to assess what happened and what parts of the response plan worked and if any didn't.

Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, said he wants two House committees — Higher Education and Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness — to convene a joint session in a few weeks to review the NIU situation.

"I want to have a joint hearing once reports are released and more information can be obtained as to how we can be better informed and better prepared," said Brady whose district includes Illinois State University. "Even though it looks like everyone worked in synch, there's always something to learn."

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.

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Doug Finke, “NIU response helped by Virginia Tech lessons,” The April 16 Archive, accessed June 14, 2024,