Bomb threats give university campuses scare
University of Texas at Austin and Louisiana State University among campuses to receive false threats
Published: Thursday, September 20, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 20, 2012 22:09
Since last Friday, a string of false bomb threats have been made to four universities in the United States – the University of Texas at Austin, North Dakota State University, Hiram College and Louisiana State University – all resulting in temporary campus evacuations.
At UT, a bomb threat was called in at 8:35 a.m. on Sept. 14 by a man claiming to be a member of al-Qaida, according to UT President’s Office spokesperson Gary Susswein. Susswein said the campus of 50,000 students and 20,000 faculty was notified to evacuate at 9:50 a.m., 10 minutes before the caller had said bombs would go off. An all-clear was issued before noon.
An evacuation order sent via text to all students read, “Evacuation due to threats on campus. Immediately evacuate all buildings. Get as far away from the buildings as possible. Further information to come.”
UT junior Katie Martin said she was concerned about the administration’s decision to wait so long before issuing an evacuation and also of the vagueness about the cause of the evacuation.
“Although the threat was not carried out, the campus should have been informed sooner as to what the situation was and just how serious it was,” Martin said. “The texts were urgent, but not very descriptive, and because of this, I think a lot of people were unsure of how crucial the evacuation actually was.”
Victoria Cheng, a junior who was off campus the day of the bomb threat, also said she was concerned about the vague nature of the emergency text.
“It was weird that they weren’t being specific about what the threat was,” Cheng said. “I found out that it was a bomb threat on the news later.”
Susswein said the university administration is evaluating its response to the incident in order to better its evacuation plan.
“Whenever we have an incident of this level, we evaluate what was done right and what can be improved,” Susswein said. “Student safety is our number one priority.”
Despite their concerns, both Cheng and Martin said they trust the decisions made by the UT administration.
“I still feel safe here at UT,” Martin said. “Some might be frustrated, but I think the university’s actions always had the students’ best interests in mind.”
A similar situation occurred at LSU on Sept. 17. The university received a call saying there was a bomb on campus, according to the Times-Picayune. An evacuation order was issued at 11:32 a.m. via text, email and website update.
Unlike the situation at UT, LSU explicitly mentioned the bomb threat in its emergency message, which read, “A bomb threat has been reported on the LSU campus. Please evacuate as calmly and quickly as possible.”
LSU junior Moriah Purdy said there was a lot of confusion and frustration, but not necessarily fear or panic, as an estimated 30,000 students all tried to leave the campus at once. Buses were packed, and traffic quickly came to a standstill.
“People initially thought it was a joke, [so] they weren’t going to leave until everyone around them started leaving,” Purdy said. “No one seemed scared, but we all called [our] parents to update them on the situation.”
Investigations by law enforcement led to the arrest of a suspect, William Bouvay Jr., late Tuesday night. Bouvay, a Baton Rouge resident, does not have any connection to LSU, nor do authorities believe he was responsible for the other three bomb threats, according to the Times-Picayune.
At Rice University, the Crisis Management Team would be responsible for handling an incident such as a bomb threat, according to Rice University Police Department Chief Johnny Whitehead. The team, which is chaired by Vice President of Administrative Affairs Kevin Kirby, includes members from RUPD and the Environmental Health and Safety Department, plus representatives from facilities around campus.
In response to the recent string of bomb threats, Whitehead said the Crisis Management Team will be distributing a comprehensive checklist to the campus community detailing what to do in the case of receiving a bomb threat call.
The Crisis Management Team’s checklist will be based off of the Bomb Threat Call Procedure published on the Department of Homeland Security’s website. The procedure includes a list of questions for the person receiving the call to ask the caller, as well as a checklist of details to pay attention to, such as background noises and the caller’s voice.
Exact evacuation plans depend on the type of incident. For example, the Crisis Management Team would decide whether it was necessary to evacuate all or only part of the campus, according to Whitehead.