Officials back alarm system as best safety option



By Eric Anderson

Nick Sudzum, NIU sophomore, was at a nearby Chipotle with some friends when the shooter opened fire. He credits the NIU campus police for their quick response and notification. He said he would sign up for an emergency text system, even though nothing else could have been done to save the victims’ lives.

“It didn’t hit me until I was in church today,” Sudzum said. “I couldn’t stop crying. You go to school to be someone, and then this happens. I didn’t get shot, but I feel like I did.”

An emergency text message system at Northern Illinois University would not have stopped Cole Hall from turning into hallowed ground Thursday, even if the campus had texts among its cache of emergency responses.

“(The University of Illinois’ emergency response) plan wouldn’t have prevented what happened,” said Robin Kaler, University spokeswoman. “There is no amount of planning that you can do that will guarantee that somebody won’t go crazy and do something horrible.”

The University’s emergency text-messaging system couldn’t have stopped the bullets had the shooter decided to attack the Quad either.

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“You can never prepare for someone who has never shown a sign of anything and just snaps,” said Justin Randall, student body president. “We’re as prepared for something on this campus as we possibly can be.”

Prior to the shooting at NIU, only 23 percent of the University student body had registered to receive an emergency text message, Kaler said. Even after Virginia Tech, only 50 percent of the student body at Virginia Tech has signed up.

“I hate to give people a Pollyanna-ish sense of the world,” Kaler said. “There are unfortunately very disturbed people who do unconscionable things. We try to make this as safe a place as we can. Safety is the chancellor’s number one priority. It trumps everything.”

Overlapping emergency notification systems that include text messages, Web postings and e-mail notifications, among others, ensure that the University’s emergency response will spread awareness quickly.

Many students at NIU said the mass amount of texts and phone calls froze cell phones, rendering phones unusable for up to two hours following the shooting.

Matt Maguire, NIU sophomore, assured his friends that he was safe by posting information on Facebook.

“We have lots of ways that we reach people and the emergency messaging is just one of them,” Kaler said. “We would never depend on that alone. Ever.”

Staff members are working on an emergency pop-up on the UI’s homepage that will “jump right at students” who are surfing the Web, Kaler said.

Randall pointed to a University partnership with the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District. Following an emergency, the MTD can bring in extra buses. The University can also control traffic lights to facilitate exits.

“If we need to have a green light, we can have a green light,” Randall said.

Officers are better trained to respond to emergencies without the need of a SWAT team or backup.

“We previously would have officers get to the scene and wait for back up. We’ve changed that so that they arrive right away and try to diffuse the situation as quickly as possible,” Randall said.

The teamwork of the Champaign, Urbana and University police also provides a bigger bank of officers to respond to an emergency.

“We’ve got three police departments that are always working together,” he added.

Kaler said that police and administration will take apart and analyze what happened at NIU to see if there is anything they can learn. Similar analysis of the Virginia Tech shootings revealed that police could not ram through doors sealed with short chains. Police now possess a practiced ability to strike through chained doors with battering rams.

Katie Dunne, internal vice president for Illinois Student Senate, acclaimed the University’s counseling services.

“Justin and I have had experiences with individuals with whom we’ve had concerns about and as soon as we’ve gone to the administration, there’s always been a plan in place where immediately some sort of plan has been taken,” Dunne said. Students can anonymously and confidentially report disturbing behavior.

“If you have an interaction with someone that is disturbing we need you to report it,” Kaler added.

“When something like this happens, it kills a little piece of all of us,” Kaler said. “And everybody’s got to take a little time to grieve. And allow yourself that.”

A memorial vigil will be held for the victims and survivors of the recent shootings at Northern Illinois University on Monday at 9 p.m. at the north end of the Quad.