On Monday, Bass Concert Hall and the Texas Performing Arts Center were evacuated following a bomb threat. Fortunately, the threat was a hoax, and the evacuation measures soon ended. But, not unlike other recent incidents of public safety threats on campus, UTPD did not properly notify students of the dangers or keep them up-to-date on continuing news of the situation.
In an ideal world, UTPD should send out email and text message updates to students, immediately and directly informing them of dangers that may arise around campus. According to news coverage in the Texan, the only attempt UTPD made to communicate the possible bomb in a University building was to tweet about it. That is unacceptable, and this needs to be a learning experience for all responsible parties so that they can rectify the mistakes in the future.
Sadly, these bomb threats and public safety crises have become a part of life here on the 40 Acres. In February, the University was rocked by a similar threat made at a food trailer in West Campus. Likewise, the University failed to properly notify students about the threat, instruct them to avoid the affected area or give intermittent updates about the situation by choosing to send out a single tweet.
This is not a recent phenomenon, either. In 2012, for example, UTPD fumbled its response to a crisis on a considerably larger scale when an anonymous hoaxer claimed he was affiliated with al-Qaida and had placed bombs throughout campus. Despite clearly outlined emergency protocols, the University did not alert the student body to the threat for 75 minutes and evacuation of the campus was still ongoing nearly three hours after the threat was made.
Based on statements made by UTPD and emails obtained by the Texan, the problem doesn’t appear to be that UTPD and the University have no procedures in place. Instead, the problem seems to be in their implementation. The vast majority of students obviously were not anywhere close to the music school late in the evening on Monday, but any student could have theoretically been there. UTPD should have for that incident, like any other, sent out both emails and text message alerts to all students. They should have continued these updates until no threat remained.
The world may not necessarily be any more dangerous today, but it is easier than ever for evildoers to needlessly set off alarm bells by calling in false threats. Thus, we have to get better at dealing with these incidents in a prompt and efficient manner. A big component of that is better communication.