Can you protect 40,000 people?

ulian Shin, senior in Media, left, Christine Smith, junior in LAS, center, and Jen Hance, junior in LAS, visit a memorial on Martin Luther King, Jr. Commons at NIU in Dekalb, Ill., on Feb. 15. Erica Magda

ulian Shin, senior in Media, left, Christine Smith, junior in LAS, center, and Jen Hance, junior in LAS, visit a memorial on Martin Luther King, Jr. Commons at NIU in Dekalb, Ill., on Feb. 15. Erica Magda

By Alissa Groeninger

Alex Strand was walking on campus with friends when he started receiving text messages telling him that a high school football teammate had been killed.

Strand, a sophomore in LAS, had learned that his friend Dan Parmenter was killed in the Feb. 14 shooting at Northern Illinois University.

“At first I really didn’t believe it,” Strand said. “I was shocked.”

For two weeks after the shooting, Strand frequently skipped classes that took place in large lecture halls.

“If it can happen three hours north of us, it can happen at our school. It was on my mind every time I woke up to go to class,” he said. “There is a chance that that could happen. You can’t predict (these incidents).”

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    Alex Roth, a sophomore in LAS, also played varsity football with Parmenter at York High School in Elmhurst. He said he was shocked when the shooting occurred so close to the University because the incident at Virginia Tech seemed so distant to him.

    “(My friend and I) just looked at each other and neither of us had anything to say,” Roth said. “It was almost too much to take in in one minute.”

    Also scary to Strand is the fact that the NIU shooter, Steven Kazmierczak, was attending graduate school at the University and bought his guns in Champaign.

    “It could have just as easily been a shooting at this school,” said Michelle Connor, a sophomore in LAS and fellow York graduate. “Some people shared classes with him.”

    While attacks like the NIU and April 16, 2007*, Virginia Tech shootings cannot be predicted, the University is working to make campus as safe as possible.

    “We certainly reviewed all of our procedures and we did everything we could to strengthen,” said University spokesperson Robin Kaler.

    She said the incident at NIU was a learning experience.

    “You certainly do anything you can to try to prevent something like that,” Kaler said.

    Todd Short, director of emergency planning, said the University reviewed the systems that were in place at NIU and Virginia Tech in order to make the University’s systems better. The goal, he said, is to provide people with accurate, thorough and timely information so people can protect themselves.

    “These things can happen to anybody at any time,” Short said. “We need to be discussing (and practicing) these things now … so that if something happens it almost becomes second nature.”

    The University purchased 200 weather radios, which would allow the police to submit a warning signal, to be used in various campus buildings, Short said.

    Public safety officials can notify the University community of weather danger or a criminal attack through the UI channel 7 news station, local public media, mass e-mail and the emergency alert system.

    Another means of informing students and staff is the text message alert system, which has recently been retooled.

    “Emergency notification was something we really wanted to strengthen to make sure we had multiple (ways) to reach people,” Short said.

    Short said the University’s department of public safety is in the final stage of revising the templates that colleges and departments use in order to evacuate or safely hide in buildings if necessary.

    Each building will have a specific plan with points on how to handle emergency situations. Short said the plan is expected to be completed by March 1.

    “They’re doing their best,” Roth said. “I can’t think of too many preventative measures.”

    Strand points out that the alerts would only help those who were not in the room where an incident was taking place.

    “There’s only so much you can do,” said Joanna Lucca, a sophomore in LAS who also went to high school with Parmenter.

    With a campus the size of the University’s and the number of students present it is hard to keep track of everyone. Short said safety can also be improved but it is hard to provide service to the 40,000 students and 13,000 faculty and staff.

    Lucca and Connor said they do not know what to do in case of an emergency and think the University should make sure students understand how to handle any situation.

    Kaler said students should always be aware of their surroundings and should pay attention. She added that if someone is acting overly sad or depressed, connect them with help to try and prevent them from acting out.

    Roth said he thinks the students at the University are smart and well-adapted, making an attack like Northern’s unlikely.

    “Of course you’re going to be wary as an incoming college student,” Strand said. “(But) you can’t live your life in fear.”

    But for now, people who lost friends at NIU or were shaken by the event are reflecting on the tragedy.

    “It made an impact on my life,” Strand said. “I’m sure I’ll think about it.”

    Roth decided to spend the one-year anniversary at home so he could pray at his church and visit with friends. He said he is going to show his friends and family he appreciates them because he has realized how fragile life can be.

    “It’s so said. It’s kind of something nobody talks about,” Roth said. “It’s just one of those subjects you don’t touch on.”

    Here’s what the University will do to make you safe:

    1. 200 NOAA weather radios installed

    2. Text messaging alert system

    3. UI channel 7

    4. Mass mail

    5. Comcast emergency alert system

    6. Telephone tree

    7. Web alert system

    8. Public media (radio, tv, etc.)

    9. Buildings have emergency templates

    Source: UIUC

    *This sentence contained an error regarding the date of the Virginia Tech shooting. We regret this error.