Austin
11:42 am
Fri September 14, 2012

Confusion and Uncertainty Amid UT’s Mass Evacuation

The UT campus was a scene of confusion today after a bomb threat led to an evacuation of all University buildings. Students and staff flooded nearby streets and coffee shops quickly became standing room only as Longhorns waited to hear from the University about whether the campus was safe and classes would resume.

Initially, details were sketchy. Sirens sounded around ten minutes to ten, around the same time an alert went out on the University’s emergency notification bulletin, which sends out text alerts:

“Evacuation due to threats on campus. Immediately evacuate ALL buildings and get as far away as possible. More information to come.”

That information would not be updated on the UT website for well over an hour.

The timeline of events shows how confusion reigned from the outset.

At 8:35 am, a bomb threat was called into the University. "The university received a call from a male with a Middle Eastern accent claiming to have placed bombs all over campus," Rhonda Weldon, Director of Communications for UT's Office of the Vice President, said about an hour into the evacuation. "He stated these bombs would go off in 90 minutes. President Powers was notified and it was decided to evacuate all of the buildings out of an abundance of caution."

But an evacuation order wasn’t made until nearly an hour and a half later, right at the time that the bombs would have gone off.

At 11:29 am, the University issued a second update, saying they were still under emergency conditions, urging people to remain away from buildings. However, UT also scheduled a press conference at noon at the AT&T Executive Conference Center, which is on the UT Campus.

Once the order was given, confusion remained as students and faculty weren’t told where they were supposed to go, except to get "as far away as possible." And some that had signed up for the University’s text alert system hadn’t received any notice of the evacuation. That could have been due to the clogged cell networks as thousands of people in a concentrated area all got on their phones at the same time.

“They stopped the alarm and didn’t give any additional information with the alarm. It seems strange,” Jason Eitelbach, who works at UT’s College of Communications, told KUT News. “It seems a little bit more chaotic than when they had the shooting incident, which I thought went absolutely perfectly.”

Two years ago, a gunman opened fire at the Perry-Castaneda library in the middle of campus. No students or law enforcement were shot, but the gunman killed himself. The University was closed for the rest of the day. In that incident, within 10 minutes of the shooting, UT began posting emergency alerts.

The best source of information from the university during the evacuation was their Twitter feed, which sent out three tweets during the first hour and a half of the evacuation. The latest (as of this post), at around 10:50 am, said, “Time specified in phone threat has passed but we have not yet cleared all buildings. Decision to resume operations & classes will come shortly.” 

The University, as of this time, has not sent out any emails about the emergency, although some students received emails about the evacuation from their particular departments.  

Steve Garza of San Antonio was taking his son, a High School senior, on a tour of campus at the time of the alarm. “We were just arriving for a ten o’clock tour when the siren went off,” he says. Students told Garza and his son about the evacuation. “It’s just a mass exodus. It’s pretty quiet, frankly. Everyone’s just walking away from campus.”

Update: Just before noon, the University announced that classes would be canceled for the day and that buildings can be re-entered at noon. The University will resume all other campus activities at 5 p.m. except for scheduled classes.