Colleges join emergency-readiness effort

Colleges join emergency-readiness effort

CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois, Parkland College and several other colleges and universities around the state will participate in a new program that aims to enhance emergency readiness on campuses.

On Monday, officials with the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and representatives from nine different colleges and universities launched the program at the Illinois Fire Service Institute, home to the UI's emergency operations center.

Called the Ready to Respond program, the initiative is essentially an overall preparedness campaign for college campuses, said Jonathon Monken, executive director of the state's emergency management agency.

"Since 2008 when Illinois was directly impacted by the shootings at Northern Illinois University, readiness and preparedness of safety campuses have taken on a whole new level of meaning for the people of Illinois," Monken said, referring to Steven Kazmierczak shooting and killing five students in a lecture hall before fatally shooting himself.

"And this program is to ensure in the future that we have the most prepared faculty, staff and students at each of these schools to minimize impact of these safety events," Monken said.

To be considered a Ready to Respond Campus, schools must meet several requirements and standards with their emergency operations. They must file prevention plans, hold specific training programs and conduct various exercises. Agency personnel will be available to help draft plans and schools involved in the program will be able to share their best practices, according to Monken.

UI Police Chief Jeff Christensen likened it to an accreditation program and said he was looking forward to helping build the program.

The university already conducts exercises and programs required by Ready to Respond, such as assembling a violence prevention team and building student awareness.

"We're always looking to beef up where we can," Christensen said.

Von Young — Parkland's police chief and president of the Illinois Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, a group that includes top law enforcement officials at college and universities around the state — said what the program does is offer a framework for colleges developing their procedures and plans.

"We saw this as an opportunity for all campuses across the state to be ready for man-made or natural emergencies," Young said.

For the nine schools, the pilot program begins May 1. In November the state agency will solicit and review feedback. A statewide rollout of the program is expected to begin in January 2014.

Monken said it's not a state-mandated program but will be available for any colleges or universities who choose to participate.

Also participating in the program are Augustana College in Rock Island, Columbia College in Chicago, Heartland Community College in Normal, Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hills, Richland Community College in Decatur, Southeastern Illinois College in Harrisburg, and Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.

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