Officials Respond To NIU Shooting

Last week’s shootings at Northern Illinois University have prompted universities across the country to reevaluate the strength of their emergency response systems. At Harvard, which has had an emergency text messaging system in place, authorities are emphasizing the importance of increased student alertness.

“If anything positive can possibly come out of these tragedies, I hope it will be to remind people to sign up for the service (,” said Stephen G. Catalano, the Harvard University Police Department spokesman, in an e-mail Tuesday.

Brian J. Crum, a spokesman for Omnilert, the company that provides Harvard’s emergency text messaging service, said Omnilert would announce in the coming month new communication additions that will make it easier for people both on and off campus to receive an alert from the University.

“We always try to adapt,” Crum said. “We learn about new technology and add it to our alert system so that we can always alert people in the way they prefer to be alerted.”

While text messaging is the favored method of alert among students, e-mail remains popular with faculty and staff and loudspeakers can be used for visitors on campus, Crum said.

In a critical emergency, multiple communication tools—including building alarms, voice mails, and web pages—would be brought into play, according to both Catalano and University spokesman Joseph Wrinn.

“An institution’s response matches the severity of the emergency,” Wrinn said.

If an occasion required moving large groups of people, the University might use bullhorns, for example, Crum added.

While Omnilert is currently working with Harvard and other universities to achieve 100 percent participation in its text message alert system, Catalano said that students, faculty, and staff should remain vigilant and report any suspicious activity.

“If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t,” he said. “When in doubt, report it.”