By Dave Newbart
The Chicago Sun-Times
DEKALB, Ill. — The day after the shootings at Virginia Tech last spring, Northern Illinois University President John Peters issued a letter saying the school would take a hard look at its security plan to make sure NIU was prepared in case of a similar crisis.
Like many area universities, NIU enacted an alert system to inform students of potential emergencies in real time through broadcast e-mails, phone calls and postings on its Web site.
Police identified 27-year-old Stephen Kazmierczak, a former NIU student, as the gunman. (AP Photo)
Following the shooting Thursday at NIU, campus officials said that while no system could prevent such an attack, their system worked well in response to the tragedy.
"We took great pains to review what our actions would be,'' said Board of Trustees Chairwoman Cherilyn Murer. "Under the most horrific of circumstances, NIU was the most prepared.''
The school said much of its plan was already in place even before last spring. In addition to the emergency alerts, the school said it installed public address systems in all residence halls, the library and student center, and also had plasma screen monitors in other buildings with emergency information.
The school said last spring it was exploring sending alerts through social networking sites such as Facebook, as well as setting up a subscription-based system that would send messages to cell phones. Campus officials could not be reached Thursday to confirm whether that system had been put into place, and students said they didn't think that system had been enacted. The school also encouraged students to refer students with mental or emotional health issues to get counseling.
Thursday, NIU set up multiple hotlines for students and parents to get information and offered counseling to any student at all residence halls.
School officials said there are limits to what any security plan can accomplish.
"You know, I wish I could tell you that there was a panacea for this kind of a thing, but you've noticed that there's been multiple shootings all over this country within the last six months," said NIU Police Chief Don Grady. "It's a horrendous circumstance, and as much as we do, it's unlikely that anyone would ever have the ability to stop an incident like this from beginning."
Copyright 2008 The Chicago Sun-Times
'It's unlikely that anyone' could have stopped shooter