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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA ready to handle disaster of NIU scale

    In the wake of the Northern Illinois University tragedy that resulted in a gunman killing five people and injuring 16 others, UA officials said they are ready for any similar incident to happen on the UA campus.

    “”Anytime something like this happens we scrutinize it,”” said Paul Alvin, vice president of communications for external relations. “”The news media really paid attention to how rapidly the university got information out.””

    Students and faculty at NIU were notified immediately of the chaos unfolding in the lecture hall on campus due to several communication measures put in place.

    Alvin said the measures came as a result of the Virginia Tech shooting when many students were unaware for hours that a shooting had taken place.

    With over 10,000 students and staff signed up for the UA emergency text alert system, communication in the event of an on-campus emergency would be faster here than at other universities.

    “”I think that with the text messaging, word would get around fast, more so than e-mail,”” said Russ Granrath, a biology freshman. “”I only check my e-mail like once a day.””

    “”As soon as we obtain reliable information we release it through the UA Alert system,”” Alvin said. “”We find the quicker we can get out information that is accurate, the greater chances we have of avoiding a secondary problem of confusion.””

    Alvin urges everyone who hasn’t signed up for UA Alert to do so at

    “”We’re really working to establish as many lines of communication as possible,”” he said.

    Aside from the emergency text system, the UA also has an e-mail alert system, the general Web site and a parent and family directed Web site where messages are immediately posted.

    “”The problem with the notification processes is that if you’re not in close proximity, don’t have your system on, or are not paying attention to it, you won’t get the message,”” said Sgt. Eugene Mejia, public information officer of the University of Arizona Police Department.

    “”Whenever officers respond to a situation they’re not going to allow people to enter the building,”” he said. “”If you arrive at a place with a lot of police activity it would be a good choice to go the opposite direction.””

    When an emergency takes place on campus, the Dean of Students Office is notified rapidly and depending on the severity of the situation, UA President Robert Shelton and UA leadership are also notified.

    “”Very early on we turn our attention toward communicating it to the community,”” Alvin said. “”Our mantra is to communicate as quickly, as accurately, and as responsibly as possible.””

    Aside from fast communication, NIU police officers are being praised at their lightning response to the scene in less than two minutes.

    Mejia said the speed of university police forces, as well as changes in emergency response plans, have increased as a result of the Columbine Shooting Case Study.

    “”Any type of quick response that can lessen the amount of violence being perpetrated by the individual, the better the result will be,”” he said. “”Our mission as well as creating a safe atmosphere, is to be able to respond to emergency situations where an immediate response is necessary.””

    Mejia said he believes the UAPD would be capable of responding as effectively if a similar event were to take place here.

    “”We always seem to arrive on scene quickly because of our close proximity and we have trained in responses to those types of scenarios,”” he said. “”We hope that we never have to use that training, but we are prepared if the time ever comes when we need to do so.””

    Mejia stressed that the most important aspect of communication within an emergency event comes in the form of students and faculty notifying authorities of an impending problem.

    “”Giving us the opportunity to take action before the incident occurs will be the best remedy to stop a tragic incident such as this last one,”” Mejia said. “”The best thing you can do is keep your eyes and ears open and trust your instincts and call 911 and let someone know.””

    The UA has put many programs into practice as a result of its own tragedies.

    On Oct. 28, 2002, a student entered the College of Nursing, killing three professors and then himself.

    “”We didn’t have what we have now in terms of the certified Campus Emergency Response Team and an effective communication system,”” said Alvin. “”We learned a lot from that day in terms of what we did well and what we really needed to work on.””

    “”We have already had our tragic incidents here on campus and when that occurred officers were quick to respond, quick to identify where it was occurring and quick to enter the building,”” Mejia said. “”Responding to these types of incidences is not new to us. We’ve learned from our own incidences how we can better notify students and staff.””

    The UA’s Campus Emergency Response Team is comprised of about fifty members. Led by vice president of student affairs, Melissa Vito, the team’s job is to manage emergencies in an ongoing manner. The team meets for monthly meetings and even has staged full-scale, simulated emergencies to test how various proponents of response plans work.

    “”They have been pretty successful in terms of indentifying ways in which our response plans can be improved,”” said Steve Holland, director of risk management for the UA.

    Over a month ago the response team decided to implement a plan to enhance campus-wide training for teachers and other staff in a multi-pronged approach for dealing with these emergency situation, according to Holland.

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