Unique state law creates blueprint for campus safety

By Melissa Silverberg

Carolena Lescano, senior in LAS, said she can walk to her classes without fear because of the people around her. But she said this does not protect her from the possibility of a spontaneous tragedy similar to Virginia Tech’s.

“It’s not something you can plan for,” Lescano said.

But the new Campus Security Enhancement Act, signed into law Aug. 22, will require schools across Illinois to work with local law enforcement to coordinate practice runs of emergency situations involving weather and terrorism. It also requires the University to create a campus violence prevention committee and a threat assessment team to address campus issues by Jan. 1, 2009, said Todd Short, director of emergency planning for the University.

“We’re all going to operate off the same blueprint,” Short said.

Short and the University played a large part in the creation of the law’s requirements as participants of the Campus Security Task Force. This group was formed after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 and brought law enforcement leaders from different universities and organizations together to discuss what needs to be done to quickly react to any emergency, said Patti Thompson, spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

“It gives all schools in the state a goal which needs to be reached,” Short said.

The University already complies with many of the law’s requirements and has many different ways of alerting students and faculty to emergency situations. The University uses the Emergency Notification System to send text messages to students who signed up for the program, alerting them of campus emergencies. Short said the University also has a telephone alert system similar to a phone tree to receive important messages, as well as a voice messaging system for those who call 217-265-UITD.

The Office of Public Affairs has also set up an Emergency Web Alert System for University Web sites. During an emergency, webmasters will insert a script into their home page that will state the problem and link to a page with more information. Short said Public Affairs will test the system at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 2, on University Web sites.