Bomb Threat

It is “that time” of the semester, which is made all the much worse by it also being “that time” of the school year, mid-April. Everyone on campus– students of course, but also faculty and staff and administrators and everyone else– is peak stressed out because this is the time where everything is due. We’re all late. My students are late finishing stuff they were supposed to finish a couple weeks ago, and for me that means I’m late on finishing reading/commenting on/grading all of those things they haven’t quite finished. We are mutually late. And just to make the vibe around it all that much more spooky, there’s the remaining mojo of Monday’s eclipse.

So sure, let’s through a stupid bomb threat into the mix.

This entry from “EMU Today” (EMU’s public relations site) provides a timeline, and this story from The Detroit News is a good summary of the event.  I was in my office during all this, slowly climbing Grading Mountain (the summit is visible, the end is near, and yet the distance to that summit is further away than I had hoped) and responding to earlier student emails about missing class because of “stress” and such. Then I started getting messages from EMU’s emergency alert system. “Emergency reported in Wise, Buell, Putnam (these are dorms). Please evacuate the building immediately.” This was followed a few minutes later by a similar message about clearing several other dorms and an update that said it was a bomb threat.

EMU set up an emergency alert system a few years ago as part of a response to the rise in school and college campus shootings and violence happening around the country. They rolled this out at about the same time the campus security folks started holding workshops about how to properly shelter in place. I believe yesterday’s bomb threat was the first time this system was used for a threat like this. Previously, the only alerts I think I have received from this system (besides regular system tests) had to do with the weather, messages about campus being closed because of a snowstorm. It is also worth mentioning that this time, the alert system didn’t just send everyone a text. It also sent emails and robocalls, which means all the devices were all lit up in a few different ways.

Our son Will (who lives in Connecticut) texted me and Annette because, for whatever reason, he’s signed up to get these EMU emergency messages and he was concerned. Annette, who wasn’t on campus, wasn’t sure what was going on. When EMU alerted a few minutes after the evacuation posts that it was a bomb threat, I knew it had to be a hoax. I knew (well, I assumed) this in part because I have a good view of several of these dorms from my office, and it wasn’t like I was seeing cops and firefighters rushing into those buildings. Mostly what I saw were students hanging around outside the dorm looking at their phones.

I also thought immediately it was a hoax because 99.9999% of the time, bomb threats are hoaxes. One of the few colleagues of mine who was around the offices at the same time as me poked his head in my door and asked if I was going to still have class. “Well, yeah,” I said, “no one has said classes are cancelled.”

Rather than spending another hour or so prepping for my two afternoon classes and at least making a tiny bit more of a dent on all the grading as I had planned, I instead spent the time responding to student emails and then sending out group emails to my afternoon classes that yes indeed, we were meeting because EMU had not cancelled classes. Some were genuinely confused, wondering if we were still having class because the alerts did not make that clear. Some emailed me about the logistics of it all, basically “I don’t know if I can make it because I need to get back into my dorm room to get my stuff first,” or whatever. Some were freaked out about the whole thing, that they didn’t feel safe on campus, there was no way they were coming to class, etc. “Well, EMU has not cancelled classes, so we will be meeting,” I wrote back. And a couple of student seemed to sense this might be the excuse to skip they were hoping for.

About an hour after it all started and before my 2 pm class, we got another alert (or rather, three more alerts simultaneously) that the three dorms that had been named in the initial bomb threat had been inspected and declared clear. The other dorms had been evacuated as a precaution. At about 2:15, I got an email from the dean (forwarded to faculty by the department head) that no, classes were not cancelled.

Before my 2 pm class was over, EMU alerts sent a final message (again, three ways) to announce all was clear. But of course a lot of students were still freaked out– and for good reason, I guess. I talked with one student after my last class and after it was over who said he was nervous about spending the night in his dorm room, and I kind of understand that. But at the same time, maybe there was never anything to be afraid of?

I’m not saying that EMU overreacted because, obviously, all it takes is that 0.0001% chance where bombs go off simultaneously in the dorms like in the end of Fight Club. Not unlike a fire alarm going off in the dorms in the middle of the night (a regular occurance, I’m told), everyone knows (or at least assumes) is because of some jackass. But you still have to evacuate, you still have to call the fire department, etc.

The whole thing pisses me off. At least it was a hoax and it wasn’t a shooter, something that is always always somewhere on everyone’s minds nowadays. At least no one was hurt beyond being freaked out for a while. And at least there are only about two weeks before the end of the semester.

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