February 15, 2008New College Community Members:
As many of you are aware, Northern Illinois University suffered a horrible tragedy yesterday when apparently a disgruntled former student went on a shooting rampage in a college lecture hall that injured at least 21 people and left 5 students dead. The gunman then killed himself. As a fellow institution of higher education, we share in both the collective and individual grief felt by students, faculty, staff and their families at Northern Illinois.
As we reflect on yesterday’s senseless act and are reminded of last year’s similar tragedy at Virginia Tech University, it is important that we as a campus community take stock of our own safety and security. Preparation, communications and awareness are essential components in helping colleges not only respond to but hopefully prevent tragic events like those at Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech.
During the past year, New College administration and law enforcement have taken aggressive actions to enhance emergency preparedness and communications’ systems on our campus. Through active shooter training and coordinated efforts with local law enforcement agencies, New College Police continuously seek to improve their response capabilities and to offer our campus police officers advanced training and equipment. With help in part from a $75,000 grant from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and with direction from the College’s Emergency Communications and Security Enhancement Team — comprised of representatives from Campus Police, the Office of Environmental Health and Safety, Public Affairs, Information Technologies, Facilities Planning and Construction, and Finance and Administration — the College also has purchased a new emergency notification system that includes text messaging, an improved network of blue light phones to be placed around campus, and a campus-wide public address system. Each of these systems will be operational within the coming weeks.
The Offices of Student Affairs, Residential Life and the Counseling and Wellness Center have also taken aggressive steps to protect students and to provide support for those in need through professional training for staff and RAs, improved facilities, and state-of-the art security features in our new campus residence halls. These offices also continue to work with students and in coordination with Campus Police and the Office of Environmental Health and Safety to better educate our campus community about issues related to safety, as well as mental and physical health. An example of these efforts took place even this week, when Police Chief Wes Walker and Director of Environmental Health and Safety Ron Hambrick attended a New College Towne Meeting to discuss campus safety and to introduce students to our new emergency notification system, enhanced blue light phone system, and new security camera system to be installed in certain College parking lots.
Despite the strides we have made, acts like those at Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech remind us of the tragic consequences that can result from the actions of a single individual striking out toward others. As such, these terrible events reinforce our need to be constantly vigilant and aware, and to watch out for one another. Technology, training and equipment can provide effective tools to help us better prepare for and respond to emergency situations, but they can never replace the essential values of human awareness, involvement and compassion.
I know I speak for everyone in the New College community when I say that our thoughts are with all of those at our sister institution who have been affected by this terrible tragedy.
Mike Michalson, President
New College of Florida