Austin
2:39 pm
Fri September 14, 2012

UT Bomb Scare Over; Questions Remain

Update (2:30 p.m.): Overview of what happened

People are allowed back into buildings on the University of Texas campus after an evacuation at 9:55 this morning. UT officials received a bomb threat around 8:30 from a man they described as having a middle eastern accent. They said he claimed to have planted bombs all over campus. The caller said they were going to go off in 90 minutes.

Evacuation was announced about 15 minutes before the bombs were supposedly going to go off. UT President Bill Powers ordered the evacuation of campus, urging students to "get as far away from the buildings as possible."

Classes on the main UT- Austin campus are canceled for the rest of today but UT-Austin buildings are now back open. All University activities except for scheduled classes will resume at 5:00 pm. 

Update (2:30 p.m.)Evacuation affected everyone on campus

Students, educators and staff weren't the only ones who had to heed evacuation orders earlier today. The university's Child Development Center also had to leave, including all their young students. Photographer Mark Tway sends along photos of staff and children who fled campus to a nearby park. 

UT's Child Development Center was among the campus groups that had to evacuate this morning.
UT's Child Development Center was among the campus groups that had to evacuate this morning.
Credit Mark Tway - Tway Photography

Update (1:50 p.m.)Threat depicted in terms of terrorism

This morning’s bomb threat was described as coming from an  al-Qaeda affiliated “male with a middle eastern accent.”

An initial description of the threat sent to the media noted the above "middle eastern" accent. The author of that statement, Rhonda Weldon, Director of Communications for UT's Office of the Vice President, also told KUT News the caller said he was a supporter of al-Qaeda.

At the press conference, Powers said UT would have evacuated the buildings “with any call … when the danger was approaching. We were not confident it was not credible,” he reiterated.

Asked where the decision to publicly depict the bomb threat in such terms came from, Powers said “I don’t have information on that.”

In the foreground: UT Police Chief Robert Dahlstrom, UT-Austin President Bill Powers, and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.
In the foreground: UT Police Chief Robert Dahlstrom, UT-Austin President Bill Powers, and Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell.
Credit Bettina Meier for KUT News

Update (1:08 p.m.): Evacuation order lifted at NDSU

North Dakota State University, which also received a bomb threat this morning, has also lifted its evacuation order, reports the Washington Post

Update (12:58 p.m.): Joint statement from UT Chairman and Chancellor

The leaders of the UT system have issued a statement on this morning's evacuation:

“Students, faculty and staff from UT Austin were evacuated this morning due to a bomb threat on campus. President Bill Powers, his staff and the UT and Austin Police forces responded quickly and appropriately to ensure the safety and protection of everyone on campus. UT officials coordinated with the City of Austin, UT System police as well as state and federal officials, to make sure people were out of harm's way and to thoroughly sweep the campus for any signs of danger. Thankfully, none were found and it appears the call was a hoax. 

Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our students and the people who go to work every day to serve them. We understand that events like this are frightening for parents, family and friends of students and university personnel and we want to express our thanks to President Powers and law enforcement for their quick reaction and commitment to the UT Austin community.”

Wm. Eugene ”Gene” Powell
Chairman, UT System Board of Regents

Francisco Cigarroa, M.D.
Chancellor 

Update (12:30 p.m.): Press Conference Concludes

The briefing has now finished, without many more details on the threat or its possible relation to other events. Powers repeatedly emphasized an investigation was ongoing, and therefore few new details could be released. 

"We always reevaluate how we respond to situations," Powers said in response to to questions whether the initial evacuation notice could have been more specific.

Update (12:20 p.m.): 'It's easy to make a phone call' 

Questions concerning the lag between the initial threat, and the decision to evacuate are taking center stage.

“The first thing we do is evaluate the threat,” Powers reiterated. “It’s easy to make a phone call.”

Update (12:18 p.m.): UT President Powers: ‘The campus is safe’

UT President Bill Powers, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and City Manger Marc Ott are all present. Powers began with a statement.

“As you know we had a threat of an explosive or a group of explosives going off on campus this morning,” Powers said.  

Powers, alluding to the time difference between when the threat was called in, and the threat’s message that bombs would detonate later in that morning, said “our first step is to evaluate the situation,” with what he called assistance from city, state and federal agencies.

Initially, “we could not assure ourselves that this was not a credible threat,” Powers continued. “And so we thought the prudent thing to do was clear the buildings. “

“Through a variety of sources, we are very confident our campus is safe,” he said.

Mayor Leffingwell said the city partially activated the city’s emergency operations center. 

Update (12:03 p.m.): UT Press Conference

At the AT&T Conference Center, a press conference is about to begin on today's threats to campus. 

The decision to evacuate campus buildings well after the threat was called in – minutes before the caller claimed bombs would go off is being widely questioned online. The decision will certainly be questioned in a few minutes. 

Update (11:40 a.m.): Classes Canceled, Buildings Can Be Reentered At Noon

From UT Austin via Twitter: "All activities except classes will resume at 5 p.m. Buildings may be reentered at noon. Today's classes are canceled."

Students plan their next move after the evacuation order was made.
Students plan their next move after the evacuation order was made.
Credit Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Update (11:34 a.m.): The University of Texas Child Development Center at 2205 Comal Street is closing, according to student assistant Yasmine Jaffal. Students are standing with about 20 staffers inside a pavillion at 22nd and Alamo Streets, waiting for parents to pick them up. They are in the process of contacting parents by telephone. 

Meanwhile, University of Texas police say they are still clearing buildings and asking people to remain outside. 

Update (11:18 a.m.): A third school, Valparaiso University in Indiana , has also received warnings of a threat on campus

Update (11:18 a.m.): A news briefing is scheduled for noon at the AT&T Executive Educations and Conference Center. 

Capital Metro says regular bus service is being detoured around campus. You can catch mainline routes at 15th, Rio Grande and Nueces. 

Update (11:07 a.m.): As time passes, people begin questioning the situation at UT. “Who knows why they would do something like that,” Darrell Roche Assistant Dean of College of Communication told KUT News. “Maybe they don’t want to take an exam? It’s too hard to speculate, so the answer is pretty much, ‘Who knows?’”

Students leaving campus buildings after the initial evacuation order.
Students leaving campus buildings after the initial evacuation order.
Credit Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Update (10:50 a.m.): Here's some reaction from students and faculty affecte by the evacuation:

“It is scary because you don’t know what’s going on or if you’re safe anywhere,” student Eric Hermes told KUT News.

“Honestly, it’s probably nothing, but it’s better to be safe,” said Michelle, a woman who was seven months pregnant and walking in away from campus with her three-year-old. 

Latest tweet from UT-Austin: "Time specified in phone threat has passed but we have not yet cleared all buildings. Decision to resume operations & classes will come shortly."

Update (10:46 a.m.): A clearer picture of his this morning's bomb threat unfolded is now emerging.

"At 8:35 a.m. the university received a call from a male with a middle eastern accent claiming to have placed bombs all over campus," states Rhonda Weldon, Director of Communications for UT's Office of the Vice President. " 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."

A new update from UT issued at 10:42 a.m. urges people to continue to stay away from buildings until the bomb search is done, with a new update promised shortly. 

The UT campus minutes after the evacuation order was sent.
The UT campus minutes after the evacuation order was sent.
Credit Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Update (10:35 a.m.): UT Austin, via Twitter: "Buildings being checked/cleared. Stay away from buildings. No decision on afternoon classes/activities. Next update at 10:45am."

Update (10:21 a.m.): UT officials released a statement claiming the university received a call at 8:35 a.m. from a man “with a middle eastern accent” who claimed to have placed bombs all over campus, the Statesman reports. The man reportedly said the bombs would go off in 90 minutes. President Powers decided to evacuate campus as a precaution. 

Update (10:17 a.m.): Several media reports say a bomb threat was called into UT this morning. Meanwhile, North Dakota State University is evacuating its campuses. An alert posted at about the same time says they “received a bomb threat.”

Orignal post: The University of Texas campus has been evacuated after reports of threats on campus. 

A text message through UT's emergency notification system, sent at 9:50 a.m. this morning, says "Due to threats on campus immediately evacuate all buildings get as far away from the buildings as possible." 

No further information is available at this time. KUT News will update this post as soon as more comes in.