Contact: Joe King, NIU Office of Public Affairs
September 25, 2008
DeKalb, Ill. — Northern Illinois University announced today that it has received grants totaling nearly $1 million from the U.S. Department of Education to enhance emergency preparedness on campus and to expand mental health services.
“These grants will allow us to meet important needs as we work to heal the lingering effects of the tragedy of Feb. 14, and to improve our ability to handle emergencies of all types in the future,” said NIU President John G. Peters.
The money comes in the form of two grants: a $568,000 Emergency Management in Higher Education grant, and a $397,000 School Emergency Response to Violence grant.
The larger of the two grants will be used to undertake a comprehensive review and upgrade of the university’s emergency operations plan. That plan, and the way it was executed when tragedy struck the campus last year, was recently praised by the Illinois Campus Security Task Force. However, as NIU reviewed its response to the event and its aftermath, several areas for improvement were identified.
“While our existing plan served us well, the experience of working through the crisis taught us many lessons,” said Peters. “This funding will help us implement those lessons quickly and efficiently and better prepare us to face adversity in the future.”
Key aspects of the plan upgrade include the creation of a “living” emergency operations plan and development of online training in emergency operations for the entire campus community.
The “living EOP” will replace the hard-copy document that currently guides the university’s response to emergencies. It will be a secure online version of the plan, which can be reviewed, updated and shared with the appropriate individuals much more quickly than the existing document.
The online training will have similar advantages, allowing the university to create modules that address specific tasks or situations (complete with tests for understanding) and easily keep tabs on employees to ensure that their training is always up-to-date.
The grant also will fund a building-by-building assessment of campus security, expanded emergency response training for campus police and simulated training exercises that include local and regional agencies and officials.
“When this process is complete, I believe that we will have a comprehensive emergency plan that will not only make NIU safer, but will also serve as a model for similar universities across the nation,” said Peters.
More than 200 universities submitted applications for Emergency Management in Higher Education grants, and the NIU proposal was one of only 13 selected for funding by the Department of Education.
Much of the School Emergency Response to Violence grant will be used to fund two new positions at the Counseling and Student Development Center, and two positions in the Office of Employee Relations and Training. Both offices have seen an increased demand for services since the campus shootings.
“Certainly some of the increased demand we are seeing can be attributed to the ongoing effects of Feb. 14, but I believe much of it can be attributed to students becoming more aware of the services we provide, and feeling less stigmatized about using them,” said Micky Sharma, director of NIU’s Counseling and Student Development Center. “Regardless of the root cause, more students are seeking out our services and this grant will ensure that we can provide them with quality care.”
The newly funded positions in the Office of Employee Relations and Training will allow that office to increase availability of short-term counseling, outreach and consultation for university faculty and staff.
“We will offer workshops on topics such as dealing with angry people, grief at work and conflict resolution, all aimed at promoting a less stressful climate on campus,” said Deborah Haliczer, director of Employee Relations.
The SERV grant will also fund a cooperative effort with Virginia Tech University to develop a state-of-the-art threat assessment protocol to assist campuses in identifying and helping students in crisis who could be become violent. The project includes devising a list of warning signs to look for, providing ideas on how to respond to troubled students and developing an intake questionnaire to help recognize potentially troubled students as early as possible.
Both grants were approved earlier this month and funds are expected to be released shortly.
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