Firefighting, Fireground Management, Fireground Safety

USFA Report On NIU Shooting Response Notes Preplanning

The United States Fire Administration (USFA) released today a new technical report entitled Northern Illinois University Shooting. On February 14, 2008, a former Northern Illinois University (NIU) graduate student walked onto the stage of a large lecture hall and began firing on startled students and faculty. The shooter, a 28-year old male, had a history of mental illness. He shot and killed five students and wounded 18, some critically. His suicide at the end of the brief attack brought the number of deaths to six.

The City of DeKalb Fire Department, the NIU Department of Public Safety, the Kishwaukee Community Hospital, and other mutual aid responders were prepared. They had practiced emergency drills together and coordinated their planning. They were familiar with the Incident Command System and had formally incorporated its use in their plans. The fire/EMS, university police, and university events management partners had worked together frequently in planned and unplanned events, so command and control procedures were well practiced. They also had studied official reports on the Virginia Tech shootings and had integrated those lessons learned into the University’s and the City of DeKalb’s emergency response plans.

“We as firefighters in this nation continue to witness the positive outcomes of emergency preparation,
preplanning, practicing plans and executing the plans when an emergency occurs,” said Acting U.S. Fire Administrator Glenn A. Gaines. “The Dekalb Fire Department demonstrates the fire service commitment to emergency preparedness for all emergencies through the study of lessons learned, and the application and practice of Incident Command and the National Incident Management System (NIMS).”

From every after-action report this potentially devastating situation was handled with the highest levels of skill and expertise. The multiagency cooperation in response in Dekalb was virtually a textbook application of Unified Command and the NIMS. The key element contributing to the success of operations was NIU had a very well-defined plan that was exercised routinely. University and local first response leadership made a commitment to prepare and train for such an event following the 2007 Virgina Tech shooting.

The USFA develops reports on selected major incidents throughout the country. The incidents usually involve multiple deaths or a large loss of property, but the primary criterion for deciding to write a report is whether it will result in significant lessons learned. Under this project, USFA also develops special reports addressing a variety of issues that affect the fire service such as homeland security and disaster preparedness, new technologies, training, fireground tactics, and firefighter safety and health.

For additional information regarding this report, or other USFA Technical Reports, visit the Publications section of the USFA Web site at