NIU steps up security

February 12, 2009 5:25:06 PM PST
Students at Northern Illinois University have tried to return to normal routines since the deadly shooting rampage last Valentine's Day that left five people dead.Some would argue that the campus has been safe. After all, when Steven Kazmierczak fired on a crowded auditorium, campus officers arrived in thirty seconds and area police were there in minutes.

Since the tragic incident that took the live of five students and injured 21, university officials have looked closely at ways to improve prevention and reaction, if ever there is another threat.

In the minutes that followed the Valentines Day shootings, Northern Illinois University sent emails, posted alerts on its Web site and used loud speakers inside some university buildings to warn others on campus.

"NIU did a really good job in the aftermath getting the alerts out very quickly," said Patrick Korellis, NIU shooting victim.

Since the attack, the university is working on new ways to communicate with students and staff including text messaging, adding loud speakers outdoors and creating a system that allows all the loud speakers to be centrally controlled.

" The thing about communication in crises that I know is that there is no one technology that is going to solve that problem. It's communicate, communicate, communicate any way you can," said John Peters, NIU president.

The university's president says another improvement is the extra attention to mental health services available. He says students who may not have come forward before now know where to turn and ultimately may get students the help they need before there is a crisis.

"In the aftermath of February 14 and this fall, because we have this help in place, they have sought this help out and that's a really good thing," said Peters.

To insure officers who responded to the horrific scene are able to move forward, the head of campus security mandates all officers get counseling.

"When we insist everybody go now the stigma is gone because everybody had to go in there. Now what you say when you're in there is between you and the psychologist," said Chief Donald Grady, Head of Public Safety at NIU.

Chief Grady says reviewing their preparedness is constant. One big change is a new line of defense from officers imbedded in campus life.

"They're dressed like students, they look like students. In fact, they go to class. They are in effect students but they are highly trained, highly qualified, highly capable," said Chief Grady.

It is the Community Assault Mitigation Program for University Systems or C.A.M.P.U.S. for short. Chief Grady says the program is similar to the federal air marshal program.

Chief Grady won't say how many under cover C.A.M.P.U.S. officers are intermingling with students. He hopes the added level of security would dissuade someone bent on doing harm.

"So if we have another response like this, the bad guy the shooter doesn't know what class they're in, he doesn't know where he's going to find them," said Chief Grady.

The C.A.M.P.U.S. officers actually take classes. Chief Grady says students would have been able to figure out the officer in class if the officer wasn't taking notes and giving presentations. However, students may notice more uniformed officers in the resident halls.

The resident halls have always had community safety centers in the halls, but, as another security enhancement, those centers are now staffed 24 hours a day. Chief Grady hopes students getting to know the officers will be another way to advert problems.