Northwestern to file security plan with state three years late

Marshall Cohen

Northwestern, and about two-thirds of all colleges and universities in Illinois, failed to file emergency preparedness plans with the state before a January 2009 deadline, according to a Chicago Tribune investigation.

Legislation passed by lawmakers in Springfield after the deadly February 2008 shooting at Northern Illinois University required all higher education institutions statewide to draft violence prevention plans and submit them to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency by January 2009.

University spokesman Al Cubbage told The Daily on Thursday that NU administrators have devoted a “great deal of time and effort” to preparing the plan and hope to submit it to the state within the next two weeks.

The Tribune article questioned the effectiveness of the Campus Security Enhancement Act because it lacks an enforcement mechanism, and $25 million promised to help schools comply with the law never materialized.

NU hired an outside consulting firm to look over the current plan, which was first created in 2001 but has been updated and revamped over the years, Cubbage said. The University also conducted an internal review of the emergency plan.

“It’s basically a matter of reviewing a whole host of things,” Cubbage said. “It ranges from the real nuts-and-bolts stuff like how many cots do we have if we needed to get people out of residence halls, but also to other things like emergency communications.”

The University’s plan includes detailed instructions for handling various types of emergencies ranging from severe weather to an active shooter on campus.

Many NU departments are involved in the process, including university relations, student affairs and the financial office. The plan also choreographs University communication with Evanston and Chicago officials and police in the case of an emergency.

Only 66 of the 185 institutions in Illinois filed the required plans with the state, according to a Tribune article published March 19, and NU was not the only Chicago-area school to miss the deadline.

Loyola University Chicago, the University of Chicago, DePaul University, DeVry University and City Colleges of Chicago had not submitted their emergency plans at the time of publication. Some of those schools told the Tribune they planned to file plans later in March.

The law requiring new violence prevention plans was passed in April 2008, six months after the campus shooting that killed six in DeKalb, Ill., and earned the support of former state Rep. Julie Hamos (D-Evanston).

The legislation required all Illinois higher education institutions to “develop an inter-disciplinary and multi-jurisdictional campus violence prevention plan” and to hold “training and exercises for the plan annually at a minimum,” according to the bill.

Cubbage said it took the University three years to file the paperwork due to a lack of clarity in the language of the legislation.

“There was some question as to what exactly the universities were going to be required to do,” Cubbage said. “It took a while for that to be resolved, but now that it was resolved, the University has been involved in getting its plan in the necessary format and using the appropriate methodology that the state requires.”

With the initial issues resolved, NU reviewed its emergency preparedness plans but did not make many significant changes, Cubbage said.

“We had to review all of the various existing policies that Northwestern has and see if they comply or if we needed to rewrite the policy,” Cubbage said. “It was more making sure that our plan matches the form that is required – and it will.”

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