Confusion on campus: Students handle the College’s chaotic bomb threat

“So does this mean I don’t have to go to class?” The question was repeated across campus on Tuesday Feb. 10,  as a bomb threat disrupted all normal activity, creating confusion and chaos. Around 10 a.m., before a Cougar Alert had gone out, students were abuzz – texting, tweeting and yaking about being evacuated from their classes in the Beatty Center and J.C. Long Building. Rumors began to fly— first that there was a shooter on campus, then reports of police with machine guns in the Simmons Center and finally, that there was a threat of a bomb on campus.

The multiple misleading Cougar Alerts that were sent to students.  (Image courtesy of Justine Hall)

The multiple misleading Cougar Alerts that were sent to students.
(Image courtesy of Justine Hall)

Students were evacuated from classes and those who were not on campus became confused as a series of emails were sent from the College, attempting to explain the situation. Junior Laurel Johnson was in the middle of a test when her professor  rushed her and fellow classmates out of the classroom with little explanation.  Amanda Howard, also a junior, recalls walking toward her class in the Beatty Center when a police officer told her to turn back. He informed her that class was canceled but gave no further information. Howard was perplexed to see students were evacuated only to the opposite side of the street. She wondered if that would have been enough to keep them out of harm’s way if there was indeed a dire situation at hand.

The infamously misleading Cougar Alerts came through.  The miscoded messages stated “bomb found on campus,” which lead to a further downward spiral of confusion. The alerts told students to “stay away” from campus,  to “prepare immediately for possible evacuation” and to “shelter in place.” None of the alerts stated whether not classes were canceled.

For students with tests, mandatory attendance or daily assignments the decision to go to class proved especially stressful. Many were unsure if going to class would put them in danger.

After almost two hours without any communication from the College, an email was sent informing students that classes were only canceled in The Beatty Center; JC Long Building; Tate Center; School of Education, Health, and Human Performance Building; and the Thaddeus Street Education Center. The email stated that all of campus would reopen at 5 p.m. Any classes not in the previously mentioned buildings were to resume as normal despite the fact that over half of campus was being patrolled by police while bomb squads searched the closed buildings.

A student summed up the ludicrous experience on the social media app Yik Yak, saying, “Making my way downtown, cops run past, still got class, can I leave now.” Another Yak referenced the multiple “ice days”  the College gave students last year and questioned how those conditions could possibly be more of a reason to cancel class than a “credible” bomb threat.

When speaking to a group of students about their opinions of how the College handled the bomb threat, a majority were critical of the Cougar Alert system and felt that they did not receive enough guidance on what they should actually do. They describe their experiences with what seem to be the words of the day: “disruptive,” “confusing” and “disorganised.”

In a email to the student body on Thursday, President Glenn McConnell attempted to ease concerns by reassuring students. “That glitch has now been corrected,” he said. “We have also gone through all of the messaging in all of our emergency communication templates in order to check for uniformity and accuracy. We are confident the system now works the way we need it to work.” He also reminded the student body to be patient, saying, “As you all know, our mission here is education, and in that light, we must remember that our own education as a university is a never-ending process.”

Despite the email, comments by students seem overwhelmingly negative. As the College recovers from this momentary chaos, students can only hope that this incident serves as a lesson and that while hopefully nothing like this ever happens again, our campus will be better prepared if it does.

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