After UT Bomb Scare, University Response Questioned
University of Texas Campus was evacuated early today when someone phoned in a bomb threat, and the school’s response has raised a lot of questions about emergency procedures and campus safety.
For a lot of students, the whole thing started not with a siren but with a text message. Tiffiny Hinman was studying with friends when she got one from UT Emergency Services.
“It says, ‘Evacuation due to threats on campus, immediately evacuate all buildings. Get as far away from all buildings as possible, further information to come,’” Henman said.
But she didn’t immediately leave campus. She ended up milling around in front of the Belo Center Building with a large group, waiting to learn more. East on Dean Keaton, some others opted not to leave their building at all.
“Downstairs in the basement, I think about 10 to 20 percent of the people are still there and not leaving,” said Akshay Singh, another student. “Because they’re like ‘It’s probably safer for me here.’ I don’t know what that means, because we don’t know what’s happening.”
Like a lot of students I talked to, Sing wished UT had given more information up front.
“Some people are saying it’s a bomb threat, some people are saying it’s a holiday,” Sing said. “So it’s just mass confusion.”
Once people learned that a bomb threat caused the evacuation, they started talking about something else. According to UT, the threat said bombs could explode within 90 minutes of the first call, or at about 10 a.m. The first alert came at 9:50 a.m., giving people very little time to get out, said UT employee Mary Durst.
“We got a text message about eight minutes before 10 a.m. that we needed to evacuate all buildings and get as far from the building as possible,” Durst said.
And just what did that mean to “get as far away from the building as possible?” Physics student Spencer Jolly wondered out loud.
“Right here we’re probably as far away from any building we could be,” Jolly said, “but we’re still in between a lot of buildings.”
As the rain picked up and it became clear that classes would not resume, lingering students and staff cleared off campus, leaving only those with nowhere else to go.
In front of the AT&T Executive Education and Conference Center, a group of evacuated scholars huddled under an overhang listening intently to a presenter. Sarah McNeely, in town from Fort Worth, explained that it was the annual meeting of the Research Society for Victorian Periodicals relocated to the rainy sidewalk.
“And so this is one of the panel sessions,” McNeely said.
A little after noon, campus buildings re-opened, allowing the Victorian researchers to return to their seats, and UT President Bill Powers to answer questions from reporters inside the conference center. As far as the timing of the evacuation warning, he says he saw nothing amiss.
“I think our students were safe during the entire incident,” Powers said.
He did say, however, that the initial warning may have been vague and said officials will review this evacuation to learn lessons for next time.