Lessons from a campus shooting
The chief communicator at Northern Illinois University explains how her staff handled the Feb. 14 shooting that killed five students and wounded 18.
The chief communicator at Northern Illinois University explains how her staff handled the Feb. 14 shooting that killed five students and wounded 18
Melanie Magara is still exhausted.
Four months have past since the deadly shooting at Northern Illinois University and Magara, the chief communicator at the university, is more tired than ever.
The tragedy occurred Feb. 14, when a gunman walked into an NIU lecture hall, shot and killed five students, wounded 18 and then killed himself. The gruesome incident lasted minutes, while the crisis communications continued relentlessly for weeks after the event.
“The interest in this story and the aftermath really went on much longer than any of us anticipated,” Magara said. “My staff and I worked 19 straight days, about 16 hours a day, until we could get past the really first [wave] of media interest.”
The university’s time-tested crisis communications plan, developed shortly after 9/11, guided Magara and her staff through those rough weeks. Months later, she can share the communication lessons of the incident, including what they learned in the moments and hours following the tragedy.
The first calls
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