February 15, 2008
Issue 8 

When the Unthinkable Happens

President Jon E. Quistgaard

Yesterday, the unthinkable happened again.  A gunman, carrying a shotgun and two handguns, walked into a lecture hall full of college students and opened fire.  In mere seconds, the Northern Illinois University campus in DeKalb was catapulted into chaos.
As the horrific news blared across news channels, I was reminded once again of the importance of remaining vigilant in our efforts to protect the safety and vitality of campus life.  I was also impressed by the swift reaction of emergency personnel to the situation.  Within minutes, police were at the site, students received emergency notices and the campus was soon in lockdown mode.  While life was lost, it’s likely that casualties were reduced because of NIU’s emergency preparedness.
Bemidji State has undertaken substantial emergency planning within the past 24 months.  Just last week, we tested the newest addition to our communication alert system, Connect-ED.  That system enables us to reach students, faculty and staff quickly through email addresses and telephone numbers.  I’m pleased to report that 75% of the 6,138 telephone test messages sent were delivered successfully.  Bad phone numbers and no one answering the line were the main causes for unsuccessful calls.
Other technology upgrades are also being made. We have begun installing an alert system in campus buildings that uses speakers and strobes to warn people of an emergency.  Bridgeman Hall has been fitted with this system.  Soon others will be. We have also begun implementing a keyless entry program that will strengthen the security of our buildings.
Having updated our campus emergency plan last year to address the potential threat of avian flu, we are now developing a companion piece, the Continuity of Operations Plan (COOP). This plan will guide us in maintaining essential processes, minimizing damage, and restoring operations if an emergency occurs or a disaster strikes that disrupts our normal operations.
Recently, the campus community began receiving user-friendly emergency guides and having an opportunity to discuss the guide with safety and emergency staff. This guide explains steps to take in a variety of emergency situations.
I’m heartened by the emergency preparedness efforts being undertaken on campus.  The key to successfully implementing those plans, however, rests with each of us.  Please take time to read the emergency procedures guide and post it in a place where everyone in your office can access it. Review and update your building’s emergency plans. Also, take the fire and tornado warning drills seriously. What may be a practice drill today, may become a lifesaving action tomorrow.  Finally, please be sure that your telephone contact information is correct. Directions on updating your contact information will be sent out soon.
Expecting the unexpected is a daunting task.  Yet, because of our planning efforts, use of technology, and commitment from staff, we are better equipped to respond quickly and effectively should an emergency arise or disaster strike.
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Bemidji State University is a member of the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System.