NIU police department add to campus safety, create e-mail advisory system

By MaryJo KratochviL & Lauren Stott

DeKALB | University officials have revealed another facet of campus safety this semester. The NIU Police Department and Media Relations developed a new system of advising the NIU community of possibly harmful situations.

The system is a counterpart to the text message alert system: a subscriber-based e-mail advisory system for events or situations whose severity may not warrant an alert text message.

Sgt. Alan Smith, of the NIU Police Department, said the need to maintain public protection is what prompted the development of the advisory system.

“Our department was on the forefront,” Smith said. “We were concerned with the safety of the community as a whole, students, faculty, staff, our guests and our visitors. It’s our job to get out and see what’s going on and make sure we inform the public.”

There is a significant difference between an alert and an advisory. An advisory is something that has the potential to cause harm, said Kathy Buettner, vice president of university relations. An alert is only for imminent danger and life-threatening situations.

“A lot of things aren’t text alert-worthy,” Buettner said. She gave the example of a tornado watch in DeKalb County, something that wouldn’t be immediately life-threatening but that subscribers would want to be made aware of. Rather than being texted about the watch, advisory subscribers would receive an e-mail.

Buettner said anyone, not just students or faculty, can subscribe for the advisory e-mails.

Junior history major Andrew Albright said he likes the idea of the new system.

“An advisory system is a good thing to have especially on campus to warn people in advance,” Albright said. “Everyone just needs to make sure to get signed up.”

NIU Police Department members make the decision to enact an alert or an advisory. They then notify someone from NIU Media Relations, like Buettner or Brad Hoey, team leader of media relations and internal communications.

An advisory may regard something that happens on campus, in the surrounding areas of DeKalb or at a remote NIU location, like NIU campuses in Rockford or Naperville.

“If something goes on in DeKalb, they may notify us or we may hear it over their radio and we may issue something like an advisory for something’s that’s off campus, but has the potential of coming on campus,” Smith said.

Buettner said the small fire that started in Montgomery Hall during finals week last semester would have warranted an advisory rather than an alert because it didn’t present imminent danger.

Smith said the hardest part of implementing the new advisory system is getting the community involved.

“Getting people to respond and getting people to pay attention to their devices,” he said. “With the advisory the information is on the website so it’s up to the public to go out there and get the information. We get it sent out but the public has to receive it and do something with that information.”