Evaluating the Bomb Threats

LSU evacuates campus just days after three other institutions made similar decisions. Is there a pattern?

September 18, 2012

Is there a pattern?

That's the question on the minds of many in higher education with regard to a series of bomb threats that have been taken seriously enough to force campuswide evacuations. On Monday, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge received such a threat, and ordered the evacuation of its campus. The threat came over the phone at just after 10:30 a.m. Central time, and within an hour the university was telling everyone to leave the campus. Then a building-by-building search started. At 7 p.m. officials declared that residence halls and some dining facilities were safe for use. And at 10:50 p.m., the university announced that all buildings were considered safe for return.

On Friday, three other institutions -- Hiram College, North Dakota State University and the University of Texas at Austin -- received bomb threats deemed serious enough to force evacuations.

To date, there has been no connection established between the four threats. And the three institutions that were evacuated on Friday were declared safe after extensive searches. Further, there are not obvious connections among the institutions that received threats, which included a liberal arts college and research universities, public and private institutions, and geographically diverse institutions. But officials involved with campus security are not viewing these incidents as necessarily a coincidence either. Bomb threats are not common at most campuses, and threats evaluated as serious enough to merit a campuswide evacuation are rare.

On Friday, a Federal Bureau of Investigation official told The Los Angeles Times that the threats appeared to be "largely local matters." But on Monday, an FBI spokesman told The New York Times that the agency was investigating whether there was a link between the four threats.

And even if no link is established, this series of threats could well motivate threats elsewhere. On Sunday, authorities arrested a student at the University of Texas at Brownsville and charged him with a threat against the campus.

Anne P. Glavin, chief of police at California State University at Northridge and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said that there has "obviously an uptick of late” in campus bomb threats and "we are trying to figure out if they are linked." Right now, she said many campuses are looking at their policies for dealing with bomb threats and considering whether updates are needed.

She said it was important for colleges to have an established procedure for evaluating a bomb threat, so that officials are prepared. "You have to walk a very fine line," she said. "You don’t want to be too quick to evacuate lest you encourage people to call in a threat," she said. But one must be prepared to evacuate if appropriate.

At Northridge, the protocols for evaluating bomb threats run a few pages. She declined to discuss the system, for fear of providing information to those who might make threats.

Glavin also said she was concerned about people not taking threats seriously, especially if there are repeated threats to the same institution (as was the case at the University of Pittsburgh this spring). She said it was essential that everyone on campus follow whatever guidance law enforcement provides.

The association Glavin leads put out a bulletin after Friday's threats, condemning them and offering some advice.

"IACLEA deplores such acts, which cause massive disruption to the university community and interrupt the educational process. We encourage our members to take several measures to foster prevention and preparation," the statement said. "First, to the extent possible, increase patrol presence around religious facilities, especially during scheduled services. Re-examine stand-off distances and vehicular access to religious facilities. Encourage students, faculty and staff to 'See Something Say Something,' particularly with regard to suspicious persons, vehicles and packages. We also encourage our member agencies to review standard operating procedures regarding suspicious packages. Reach out to religious and faith-based organizations on campus and enlist their assistance in maintaining the safety of their gatherings."

Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education, said that he believed "every one of the institutions" facing bomb threats in the last week "did exactly what they should do. They evacuated the campuses. If you are a college or university president, you do not have a choice but to take threats very seriously," he said.

Hartle said that dealing with threats is "a tremendous waste of resources for the schools and local law enforcement agencies." He also said that he believed that incidents like the mass killings at Virginia Tech in 2007 prompted many colleges to review and improve their crisis response procedures.

While he said ACE did not have information about a link between the various incidents in the last week, "what is so clearly unusual is to have so many threats in such proximity."


Back to Top