North Dakota State University

As a spike in bomb threats at major universities continues across the country, many schools are preparing for the possibility that they will be the next target.

Since Friday’s bomb threat at UT, bomb threats have targeted Arkansas State University, Louisiana State University, UT-Brownsville, North Dakota State University and The University of Mississippi football players’ cars. As a result, major universities are taking notice, sending out safety messages and reviewing their emergency procedures in case they are the next target, said Allan Baron, Texas A&M Universtiy Police Department spokesperson.

“It’s a really difficult situation to deal with,” he said. “So, that’s the whole thing. I think a lot of these colleges and universities are taking an in-depth look.”

Baron said Texas A&M University has taken measures to increase campus awareness and review emergency plans of action.

“In light of the recent threats, we have made our staff and faculty aware of what the procedures are for reporting these incidents,” he said. “Also, we have discussed the different options that are available, that can be utilized in a situation such as what The University of Texas had on their campus, so that we can adequately deal with the whole situation.”

During UT’s evacuation, not everyone moved at least 300 feet away from evacuated buildings, which is the minimum evacuation distance listed in UT’s emergency plans. The alerts UT issued did not specificy the minimum evacuation distance listed in UT’s security plans.

Baron said he hopes Texas A&M University is able to properly evacuate people, should it recieve a bomb threat. He said, like UT, Texas A&M University also has a 300-foot minimum evacuation distance in case of possible hazards.

“That 300-foot radius, that’s really hard to control,” Baron said. “A lot of time and man-power has to be put into a situation like that, and it has to be done in a relatively short amount of time.”

Erik Vasys, spokesperson for the FBI office in San Antonio, said investigations into all recent bomb threats are ongoing, and he is not able to say whether there is a connection between any of the threats at this time.

“It could just be copy cats,” he said.

Officials said arrests have been made in connection with the threats to Louisiana State University, Arkansas State University and UT-Brownsville, but not in connection with the threats targeting UT, North Dakota State University and University of Mississippi football players’ cars.

Officials with the Oxford, Mississippi, Police Department said a man called 911 at 7:46 a.m. Tuesday and told the operator there were bombs in cars belonging to University of Mississippi football players. Police then tracked down all the players, searched their cars and deemed the threat false. No one has been arrested in relation to the Miss. bomb threat, said Mike Martin, Chief of the Oxford Police Department.

Kimberly Dandridge, student body president at the university, tweeted a copy of the University of Mississippi’s emergency-situation instructions Monday morning as a precaution. She said she couldn’t believe it when a threat was called in later that day.

Vasys said penalties for the individuals making these threats will be severe if they are caught.

A terroristic threat charge under Texas state law would be classified as a third degree felony in these cases. That comes with a penalty of 2 to 10 years in prison and a possible fine of up to $10,000. Other states have varying penalties for the crime. Civil implications could exist as well.

University spokesperson Rhonda Weldon said she is unsure of the direct financial cost of Friday’s threat for UT, as it would be difficult for the University to calculate.

Printed on Thursday, September 20, 2012 as: Universities respond to bomb threats

Computer sciences freshman Tyler Corley (left) and biology sophomore Sayde Pihota (right) read updates on the bomb threat from the UTPD text messaging system Friday morning.

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

After the weekend, concern about the timeliness and language of the University’s response to Friday’s hoax bomb threat remains while FBI investigations are still ongoing.

Erik Vasys, San Antonio FBI spokesperson and agent, said the FBI takes all threats seriously and the investigation into this incident is ongoing. He would not elaborate on the details of the investigation.

The University ordered a campus-wide building evacuation at 9:50 a.m. Friday in response to a bomb threat that was called in 75 minutes earlier at 8:35 a.m. Many students said they were concerned the University waited too long to evacuate the buildings. The caller claimed the bombs “all over” campus would start detonating 90 minutes after his phone call, making the detonation time 10:05 a.m.

In this instance, the criminal consequence under state law for making a terrorist threat is a third degree felony, with a maximum penalty of up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine, as well as possible civil liabilities. If a terrorist threat meets certain specifications, such as disrupting public transportation, putting the public in fear and/or influencing government activities, then the crime is considered a third degree felony.

The University delayed registration-related deadlines originally set for Friday, including undergraduate add-drop and tuition payment, until 5 p.m. Monday, Sept. 17. As of Sunday night, the University had not sent a campus-wide email informing students of the extension.

At a press conference at noon Friday, UT President William Powers Jr. said he was extremely confident the University was safe. Powers said he could not elaborate on the details of the call and defended UT’s response to the incident.

Meanwhile, North Dakota State University also received a bomb threat. Vasys said the FBI is looking at the possibility of a connection between the two hoax calls. At Friday’s noon press conference, Powers said he could not say whether the two instances were related, but he did say the investigation team had information that they might be.

UTPD chief Robert Dahlstrom said bomb threats at UT usually happen multiple times each semester.

“It doesn’t happen that often,” Dahlstrom said. “It’s very rare. I would say several a semester, and that’s just on average.”

Dahlstrom said the text message was sent at 9:50 a.m. Had the threat been real, the bombs would have gone off around 10:05 a.m., giving students less than 20 minutes to evacuate UT buildings and distance themselves away from campus.

“I think 9:50 a.m. was way too late to decide they were going to evacuate,” said Daniel Cortte, freshman architecture major. “It seemed to me like they were more concerned with finding out if it was real.”

Cortte said he saw students in buildings at 10:05 a.m.

Powers said the first action the University takes when a threat is made against campus is to determine if the threat is credible. He said if the threat had been of immediate danger, the University would have evacuated immediately.

Students can subscribe to the University’s text message alerts on UTPD’s website. But some students who said they are subscribed to the alerts said they did not get the messages.

Theater junior Chase Gladden said he did not receive the original evacuation alert text message because his classroom lacked reception. Another student who ran in late told the class about the text message.

“Once we all got outside of the building, we started receiving text message alerts, but I only received the follow-ups,” Gladden said.

The evacuation also left students off campus, living in the Riverside, Far West and East Campus areas with no way to get home for almost three hours.

Capital Metro UT shuttles could not enter campus after the evacuation was announced. Capital Metro spokesperson Erica Masioge said shuttles were back on their regular routes at 12:30 p.m. UT shuttles and regular routes that run through the University stopped running or were rerouted after UTPD informed Capital Metro about the evacuation at 10 a.m.

“We couldn’t get any bus to campus until we got the clear from the University,” she said.

Additional reporting by Mary Ellen Knewtson and Alexa Ura.

Lt. Joel Vettel of the Fargo Police Department talks to the media near the North Dakota State University campus in Fargo, N.D., following a bomb threat that forced the evacuation of the campus on Friday.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The FBI is searching for a connection between the false bomb threats at UT, North Dakota State University and Hiram College in Ohio that caused the campuses to be evacuated Friday.

“One of the many things we’re looking into is the possible connection to the other hoax calls,” said Erik Vasys, a spokesperson for the San Antonio division investigating the UT bomb threat.

The bomb threat came at the end of a week when two other false alarm situations near UT had already disrupted campus. Eight campus buildings’ fire alarms were pulled Monday, forcing evacuations. A squad of University and Austin police officers closed off an area around the corner of 24th and Guadalupe streets Thursday while they investigated a suspicious cooler left on the sidewalk. The area was closed for an hour until police were able to determine the cooler was not dangerous.

UTPD Police Chief Robert Dahlstrom said his department is communicating with the other two colleges that received bomb threats Friday through the Joint Terrorism Task Force, an FBI partnership with other law enforcement agencies focused on cases involving terrorism.

“I don’t know that this is related to the other incidents at all, but when you look into these situations, you have to look at what is going on everywhere,” Dahlstrom said.

UT was the first to receive a threat by phone at approximately 8:35 a.m. North Dakota received its bomb threat by phone at approximately 9:45 a.m. and Hiram College received a threatening email at approximately 4 p.m. At UT, 69,000 people received an emergency text message to leave all campus buildings, according to a UT statement.

Dean Bresciani, North Dakota State University president, said about 20,000 people evacuated North Dakota State’s Fargo campus Friday, according to the Associated Press. Hiram College has 1,300 students. Authorities evacuated, searched and declared all three schools safe Friday. At a press conference Friday, UT President William Powers Jr. said he had information about whether or not the events were related but could not provide it because the investigation was ongoing.

Valparaiso University, a private college in Indiana, also received threats Friday that turned out to be false but did not evacuate campus. Valparaiso notified students Friday morning that it had received an unspecified threat stating “dangerous and criminal” activity would occur at 11:15 a.m., according to a statement released Friday. The university found graffiti in one of its bathrooms, implying criminal activity might occur during the school’s chapel break. The school had no reason to believe the threat was connected with incidents at the University of Texas and North Dakota State University, according to its statement.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those institutions for the anxiety they experienced today,” Valparaiso University Provost Mark Schwehn wrote in the statement.

Also on Friday, authorities in Kansas City, Mo., closed off several blocks to investigate a vehicle believed to contain a bomb. A man walked into a downtown federal office building to ask if he was on a terrorist watch list and was detained while officers searched his car, according to The Kansas City Star. After four hours of searching, the FBI determined the car contained nothing threatening.

Printed on Monday, September 17, 2012 as: Fake threats across U.S. catch FBI's attention