In the last month, more than four college campuses around the country received bomb threats.
80 miles north of San Antonio, the University of Texas at Austin received a bomb threat on Sept. 14, 2012. The caller stated that the bomb would detonate in 90 minutes in an unspecified location on campus.
Other college campuses received threats this September including Louisiana State University, North Dakota State University, Hiram College and the Univeristy of Texas at Brownsville. Many of these campuses, including both the University of Texas locations, use systems similar to TrinAlert, which notifies students via cell phone and the campus phone system. However, Trinity is working to provide more campus-wide alerts.
“As part of the crisis management team, we are currently setting up an outdoor PA system that will come online soon,” said Fred Zapata, director and chief information technology officer. “There will be an outdoor public address system divided into upper campus and lower campus. If somebody happens to not check their phone or be around a campus land-line phone, then hopefully they can get the emergency message that way. I think that should be up by the end of the semester, fairly soon. We are also, down the road, looking into tyng [emergency alerts] into public address systems like the football field speaker systems, soccer field PA system, those types of things.”
Student participation in TrinAlert is fairly high. According to Zapata, over 2,200 students are enrolled in the text message notification system and only about 200 students have opted out. Around 500 faculty and staff members are also part of the system, so notifications remain campus-wide.
Although notification and awareness of threats is fairly widespread, the process proceding student and staff notification remains a sensitive subject. Due to the nature of bomb threats, members of the Emergency Management Team could not disclose specific protocols in the case of a threat.
However, Paul Chapa, chief and director of University Police was informative about the degree and severity of threats.
“If there is a bomb threat, there are many different levels [of emergency]. For example if the threat is “˜there is a bomb on campus and it’s going to go off this afternoon’, it’s not specific; there is no immediate reference to where the device can be located and it’s very general,” Chapa said. “Bomb threats in general are critical of course, but unless you have specific reference to a location, type of device and what time it’s going to go off, then you really change gears. A bomb threat that says, “˜there’s a bomb that’s going to go off in the library on the third floor at 3:30′, then we have a specific threat and location where the bomb may be.”
There are general response guidelines for many instances. However, because bomb threats can vary drastically, the protocols are determined on a situation-to-situation basis.
“There are so many different facets that make this a fluid attempt to responding to an emergency. It is a crisis, and we are, the University Police Department, are first responders. We can’t just show up with a book and say, “˜Okay, what do we have, a bomb threat, you go do this.’ It doesn’t work that way,” Chapa said. “[The emergency guidebook] is a guide. It helps us respond and hopefully a lot of the questions we have will have a reference in some of the policies and procedures we created, but for the most part we work hard. We do a lot of prayer, make sure we are practicing our procedures and protocols to make sure we have a good enough response.”
The emergency guide book is distributed by the crisis management team to all the secretaries and administrators in each office and department on campus. It provides a short list of possible emergencies that may occur on campus, including, but not limited to, bomb threats, fires, active shooters, missing persons and severe weather events. Under each event there is a quick description of the general behaviors that should be observed during an emergency situation. However, challenges remain on what should and should not be planned.
“Is it practical to designate specific areas and put it out to the population? For instance, “˜If we need to evacuate the campus you need to go to place X, Y, and Z.’ Well emergency management is like a chess game, you have to think two or three moves ahead. Is that the right thing to do,” asked Harold Lovejoy Director of Environmental Health & Safety and Emergency Management Coordinator. “If I was the bad guy, and I wanted to disrupt the campus and take out as many people as possible, and I knew that if I called in a bomb threat then you would go to, let’s say, the North jogging trail, then that would be the perfect place for me to set up as a sniper and start taking people out, knowing that’s where you were to go.”
Bomb threats are a hot topic now more than ever, especially in light of the recent passing anniversary of September 11.
Both Chapa and Lovejoy stressed that as part of a campus, Trinity members cannot lose their identity with city as well.
Remaining knowledgeable of San Antonio’s emergencies, as well as the safety of the nation, can only help Trinity stay aware. Luckily, many of the university’s characteristics help maintain a safe environment both in preventing and dealing with emergency situations, including a small student body and the university’s command structure.
“Here, we have about 25 people in the overall crisis management team, but what leads the crisis management team is what we call the core five. That core five is what is going to make those decisions and bring them directly to the president. There is no getting hold of the chairs of departments or different vice presidents, it goes straight to the president,” Lovejoy said. “We use to meet for a whole crisis management team, and it was difficult. Finding a team, making decisions, etc. It’s good to have all those people on the same team, but they come in at different stages. It helps streamline decision-making. I think it’s as safe as we can be.”