Marshall U. waiting to approve emergency plans

The need for a published Marshall University emergency plan in the event of a gunman has become particularly evident after Thursday's campus shooting at Northern Illinois University.

Jim Terry, director of the Marshall University Police Department said the Marshall University Emergency Management Organization has been structuring a plan for such an emergency since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Col.

Thursday's shooting and the Virginia Tech University shooting that occurred in April have underscored the process and development of the protocol.

Steven Kazmierczak, a former graduate student of Northern Illinois University, entered an oceanography class held in a lecture hall occupied by about 100 students shortly before 3 p.m. and opened fire with a shotgun and two handguns, killing six students and injuring 16 others before killing himself, according to a press release issued by Northern Illinois University.

The shooting comes less than year after a shooting at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va., that left 32 people dead at the hands of Seung-Hui Cho, a senior English major at the school. Cho subsequently killed himself.

"We do have a plan," Terry said. "It hasn't been made available to the public yet because it's being reviewed."

The plan, once approved and adopted, will be made available online and through pamphlets, which will be distributed at freshman orientation and available throughout campus, Terry said.

The plan is made subject to national standards and is a universally accepted protocol.

"Awareness is your key to everything," Terry said.

Terry also offered some specifics in the event of an immediate gun threat, all of which are also delineated in a draft of the response plan.

"It's basically the existing emergency plan's standard response, but specifically customized for an armed assailant situation," Terry said.Once the threat has been contained, the normal protocol outlined in the Emergency Management Organization will resume, with local law enforcement being called in, information disseminated via media outlets and counseling services for students being initiated, Terry said.

Northern Illinois University does have an emergency response plan for many different situations, said Pat Erickson, administrative assistant at the university's public affairs department.

Erickson was unable to confirm whether the plan was enacted and phone calls to the president of the university were not immediately returned.

"It looks like they followed their emergency plan to a T," Lt. Dicky Roberts of the MUPD said.

Terry said law enforcement does the best they can in the situation.

"We are an open campus," Terry said. "There really is no practical way to prevent these things. Our mission is to educate and we can't isolate ourselves and succeed in that."

MUPD tries to be proactive by following up on any information, asking the public to call in and be vigilant in reporting threats, Terry said.

Terry also encouraged students not signed up for the emergency text-messaging plan to do so.

"You have to live your life," Terry said. "You can only raise the level of security as much as the public is willing to allow."

(C) 2008 The Parthenon via U-WIRE