In the wake of yet another college campus shooting, local officials are stressing the importance of being prepared if similar events were to occur in Utah.
Thursday's shootings at Northern Illinois University's DeKalb campus outside Chicago leave still many questions of how best to secure a public campus.
"It's a reminder that it can happen at any time and at any place," said Utah State University Police Chief Steve Meacham. "You never know and so you have to try to work to be prepared to respond to an incident in case it does happen."
With the news of the shooting, officials at Utah's public campuses, police and emergency personnel were reminded of the importance of keeping campuses safe.
"It's been pretty much in the forefront of our minds since Virginia Tech," Meacham said, adding that last year's incident "changed the way we train and respond to active shooters." Emphasis has been put on a coordinated response with local law enforcement statewide, involving all campus emergency plans.
"We feel like the safety of our students and our faculty and our staff and anyone on campus is a high priority," said Amanda Covington, Utah System of Higher Education spokeswoman. "Students should expect to study and learn in a safe environment."
A big concern, and something that hurt the information efforts in Illinois Thursday, is increased use and the jamming of phone networks in the area. Meacham said multi-faceted technology, which is in the works for Utah schools, would assist in those efforts and not jam up as quickly.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints Institute program at the DeKalb campus had let its nearly 40 members out of class just 30 minutes before the shooting happened. Institute coordinator Michael Evans said it had been difficult to reach any of them or the professors who are members of the church there because of the jammed phone networks. E-mail, he said, had become the primary method of communication for them to ensure their members' safety.
Evans said they were offering assistance to any student in need, "including a place to go if they want to get off campus and stay somewhere else for a while."
Just last week, lawmakers recommended a total of $500,000 be allotted to the nine colleges and universities and $100,000 to Utah College of Applied Technology campuses to enhance current emergency management and campus security plans. USHE had requested $4 million, but Covington said any money will help.
Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sen. Greg Bell, R-Kaysville, said it would be irresponsible to "appropriate very large amounts of money without understanding either the nature of the risks and how to address them."
While commending USHE for seeking funding, he said the $600,000 recommendation would provide money "for assessment of the risks and for developing an emergency response, not just to a shooter, but other risks as well."
"Obviously it's a situation and an issue that we cannot become complacent in," Covington said. "We have to be on our toes and focus on emerging technology and information and ways we can respond better." This year, she said, campuses will focus new funding on staffing needs, continuation of planning, notification and alert systems, emergency operations centers, campus population needs, additional training and funding of preparedness activities and resource acquisition."We have to try to prepare for the worst and hope for the best," Meacham said.
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