March 22-28, 2002
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Top News
Bomb threats spur new plan
Alternate class sites will be set

Photo by Jenny Gerow
With mid-term exams disrupted due to a bomb threat March 9, these students tested their wits in a game of chess while waiting for buildings on the South Lawn to reopen.

By Carol Wood

It appeared to be one of those idyllic Lawn settings. Classes had moved outside to enjoy an early spring day, groups spreading up to the middle levels. Some students gathered in circles to participate in animated discussions with professors, while others sat cross-legged and hunched over to take exams.

A few hundred feet away, toward the statue of Homer, the lower Lawn was cordoned off with reams of yellow tape. Police officers kept everyone but inspectors and their dogs from entering the horseshoe of academic buildings.

On three separate occasions earlier this month, threatening calls were made to the University that resulted in the evacuation of the College of Arts & Sciences. Each day the buildings remained closed for nearly five hours while every room was searched.

Many students who had come prepared to take mid-term exams and to turn in papers left frustrated and angry, unable to complete their work or find their professors. Faculty and administrators also were concerned about the disruption to academic activities, as well as the considerable cost in time and manpower.

On Thursday, March 7, between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m., four buildings on the South Lawn were affected — Old and New Cabell, Wilson and Rouss halls. Approximately 8,000 students were attending some 300 classes in those buildings during that time. In addition, 350 faculty and 400 staff members work there.

It is difficult to put a price tag on all the costs of the disruption to the University, said Leonard W. Sandridge, executive vice president and chief operating officer. “What we do know is that the cost to the University Police alone is $18,000 a day.” Similar expenses were incurred by the State Police for detectives, bomb specialists, and bomb-sniffing dogs at the site.

Since early last week, University administrators have been working on a plan to prevent future class cancellations in the event of another bomb threat — and to decrease the chances of its happening at all. “Our goal is to stop these disruptive actions,” Sandridge said, “and to make it clear to everyone that we are moving ahead with both the investigation and preventative planning. We want to have a plan that allows faculty and students to get on with the business of teaching and learning. We also want to make it clear that we will not tolerate this criminal behavior in our community.”

K-9 searches Grounds for bombs
Photo by Chris Myers
K-9 units were used to search the Grounds for bombs.

Calling in a bomb threat is a class five felony offense, said Melissa Fielding, University Police spokesperson. If convicted, one could serve up to 10 years in jail, she added, and restitution could well be part of a sentence.

In addition, such an offense can be brought before either the Honor or the Judiciary committee, and might be cause for separation from the University.

The recent incidents — which also include an earlier bomb threat at the Aquatic and Fitness Center — are under investigation, and if suspects are identified, the University plans to prosecute to the full extent of the law. “We hope that as responsible members of the University community, students who have information about any of these bomb threats will report it to the proper authorities,” Fielding said.

Part of Sandridge’s strategy is to communicate directly with faculty and students about what happened and to lay out the first steps of a plan dealing with future events. When faculty members returned from spring break Sunday, they received an e-mail message from University Provost Gene Block. Students received a similar message from Patricia Lampkin, interim vice president for student affairs.

The note to faculty members asked that each professor determine an emergency meeting site where she or he could gather quickly with students to give them instructions about a venue for completing the day’s classwork.

Faculty members would then direct students to an alternative site they had chosen for completing the class. (Sandridge has charged a work group to clarify the classroom relocation plan.)

The note to students stated that classes would not be cancelled in the event of further bomb threats and explained the alternative classroom plan. Both notes directed people to the University’s bomb threat protocol, which is posted at Top News Daily, http://www.

In the event of future bomb threats, information about building evacuation and closings will be updated on Top News Daily and via the University’s two snow lines: 924-SNOW and 243-SNOW.


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