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Schools seek security in wake of shootings

The Virginia Tech tragedy was a hot topic at the University of Wisconsin-Superior today, but students don't fear a similar event will happen here.

"I've definitely heard people talking about it," said Ezra Reilly, a freshman from Minocqua. But, he said, they didn't sound worried.

"I feel very safe on campus," said Stefan Fletcher, UWS student body president. Yet the event has raised awareness both on and off campus.

"I think what it's done is opened everyone's eyes to the fact that we have to be vigilant and have the best possible plans in place for the types of events that tragically unfolded yesterday in Virginia," Fletcher said.

He must have been reading the mind of UW-System President Kevin Reilly, who set up a 10:30 a.m. conference call for all campus safety officers and police.

Each of the UW-System schools deals with emergencies locally, said Kate Dixon, spokeswoman for the UW-System.

"For a plan like this, one size does not fit all," she said.

Today's call was a chance for the schools to share information about the shootings and about their own security measures.

Chris Markwood, UWS provost, applauded the move as a way for campuses to share their best practices.

"It gives us an opportunity then to reevaluate and to make sure we are taking care of the students, the faculty and staff in the way that we need to," he said.

UWS employs six campus security officers and Director of Campus Safety Mike Wallin. They watch over a population of about 2,900 students and 400 faculty and staff. Their beat covers 15 buildings on a little more than 100 acres. Security measures include emergency phones and an escort service, Wallin said.

The campus safety director said mock drills are carried out and students are made aware of emergency plans and resources. If a threat occurs, Markwood said, alerts would be sent via an all-student e-mail. Each building is also equipped with a P.A. system, he said.

Campus security officers are not trained police officers, so they do not carry firearms. Their partners at the Superior Police Department -- 57 sworn officers -- do.

"You have to remember the Superior Police Department is only four blocks from UWS, so the response time is extremely quick," Wallin said. "Certainly something of this type of event ... they could arrive before my officers could arrive."

Superior Assistant Police Chief Scott Campbell said the department works with UWS' campus security for all manner of incidents, from traffic accidents and underage drinking calls to more serious threats.

"We want to work hand in hand," Campbell said, with the goal being a unified response.

Wallin pointed to two bomb threat incidents a few years back where they worked cooperatively with the Superior police. In one incident, a residence hall was evacuated. Police apprehended a suspect and detonated a small pipe bomb. In a second incident, a bomb threat led to evacuation of the entire campus. It turned out the threat was a distraction for a bank robbery, Wallin said.

There is no set plan for dealing with a campus shooting.

"It was only a couple of months ago that we actually did discuss this particular issue -- what would happen if this campus would have a shooter," Markwood said.

According to Wallin, the emergency response would depend on the scenario. It could include evacuating buildings, evacuating the campus or, if there was a sniper outside, keeping students in buildings.

Universities face a balancing act in trying to minimize security risks while remaining open and accessible to the public, Markwood said.

"Unless we adopt a sort of airport security mentality and approach to security, this type of situation at Virginia Tech is possible," he said. "As long as individuals have guns and are willing to use them, we run the risk of something like this happening."

As a show of solidarity, Fletcher sent condolences to the president of the Virginia Tech student body Monday.

"I think it's important that we remember them and keep them in our prayers," he said.