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Emergency Communications in Action: The Tragic Valentine’s Day Shooting at NIU

PRSA Counselors to Higher Education (CHE) Webinar, Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Presentation Slides
NIU Emergency Guide

The eyes of the world turned to Northern Illinois University (NIU) on February 14, 2008, when a gunman opened fire on a lecture hall of nearly 150 undergraduate students, leaving six dead and 19 others injured. The NIU Office of Public Affairs’ exemplary response kept the community connected during the crisis. Afterwards, NIU’s follow-up communications successfully maintained the university’s reputation as a safe and caring institution, inspired an increase in applications from prospective students and garnered industry accolades, including the PRSA 2009 Best of Silver Anvil Award.

Join Melanie Magara, NIU assistant vice president, public affairs, for insight on how to:

  • Orchestrate an effective crisis communications program, and strategically use emergency alerts, news conferences and stakeholder engagement to communicate key messages.
  • Develop messaging that communicates not just the facts, but preparedness, transparency and compassion.
  • Move forward, while continuing to offer respectful and proactive communications on the crisis.


Melanie Magara is assistant vice president for public affairs at Northern Illinois University, a doctoral/research extensive public university one hour west of Chicago. The tragic Valentine’s Day 2008 shooting at NIU thrust Magara and her staff into the spotlight, managing communication challenges that touch every area of the PR profession. Beyond crisis communications, Magara has been responsible for central university marketing, branding and public relations, including a successful overhaul of the university’s website and branding architecture that brought the entire institution’s Web presence into a standard, branded template. A frequent conference speaker and workshop presenter, Magara has been featured in PRSA’s PR Strategist magazine and PR Tactics newspaper, CASE Currents magazine, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and Ragan Communications Online.