UI officials react to VT findings

By Angelina Cole

A report released last week by a committee appointed by the governor of Virginia condemned administrators at Virginia Tech for their failure to notify the campus of shootings in a dormitory early on April 16, according to The Associated Press. Officials have defended their actions, saying that they could not have known the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, would attack again that day, killing 31 students and faculty members.

The massacre and scrutiny of the administration’s response have caused other campuses to reassess their own plans in the case of such an emergency. The University of Illinois has been working to improve safety measures on campus, but has yet to implement major changes to previous protocol.

“We continually evaluate our emergency response system in several ways,” said Jeff Christensen, assistant chief of University police, via e-mail. “After tragic events such as the shooting at Virginia Tech happen, we evaluate our system and capabilities based on the information we learn through those events.”

According to Christensen, this includes “tabletop discussions” of protocol and real time, application-based scenarios. These methods of practice allow officers to assess different elements of the planned response and evaluate what went well and what needs improvement.

However, it remains unclear to some students what they should do if an active shooting situation were to occur.

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    Allison Pigatto has no clue what she would do if a shooter came into Foellinger Auditorium.

    “I would probably hide,” the junior in ACES said.

    Pigatto said that she generally feels safe on campus even after the Virginia Tech shooting last spring, but isn’t sure what measures the University could take to make the campus safer.

    “The Office of Campus Emergency Planning Web site is available to all students, faculty, staff and parents at www.ocep.uiuc.edu,” Christensen said. “It contains information on many facets of safety, including personal and departmental preparedness, as well as information on planning for and surviving a Virginia Tech type situation.”

    Pigatto has never heard of this Web site and presumes that a majority of the student population has no knowledge of it either.

    “I’ve never even seen an e-mail about it,” Pigatto said. “I feel like if we got an e-mail about it, that would help a lot.”

    Christensen believes basic individual response education is key. However, drills of an active shooter situation are viewed as impractical.

    “Although scheduling live drills for any emergency response can be difficult and disruptive to ongoing business and academic operations, numerous units have conducted tabletop discussions to review how they would respond,” Christensen said.

    In addition to these courses of action, University police also conduct response training within University buildings involving active threat drills.

    However, Pigatto believes that if the University were to begin these drills, students would not take them seriously.

    “Maybe in Foellinger (a drill could be useful) because it’s more of a target,” Pigatto said.

    The University police suggest that in such a situations, students should either shelter themselves or flee the situation if possible.

    “Immediate notification to 911 is key,” Christensen said. “Incidents such as these happen in a very short time frame and require quick notification and law enforcement response.”

    Since the shootings at Virginia Tech last spring, there has been heightened discussion of an emergency text message system being utilized on the Illinois campus.

    “The emergency text messaging is being tested right now, but it’s important to remember that it isn’t a cure all,” said Robin Kaler, University spokesperson. “It could take up to eight hours for everyone to actually receive a message, so this system will be just one tool. We also use mass media, phone trees and other methods to notify people in an emergency.”

    It is important for students to remember to take charge of their own safety, to be aware of what is going on around them and take steps to make campus a safer place, Kaler said.

    “Safety education programs are important,” Kaler said. “But in a university community, we all need to take responsibility for our own safety, as well as the safety of our peers.”