Bomb threat prompts evacuation
Published: Monday, September 17, 2012
Updated: Monday, September 17, 2012 14:09
Thousands of people streamed off the NDSU campus in a mass exodus after the university declared a complete evacuation in response to a bomb threat Friday.
NDSU received a call including the “threat of an explosive device,” FBI Spokesman Kyle Loven told the Associated Press. The call came at approximately 9 a.m., according to NDSU University Relations.
“It was a call that came in to campus personnel, and from there the response was coordinated and certainly was effective,” Lt. Joel Vettel of the Fargo Police Department said.
Police declined to release any more information about the call to preserve the “integrity of the investigation” and “the safety of everyone involved,” Vettel said.
The university’s emergency alert system notified all employees and students, requiring everyone to leave campus by 10:15 a.m.
“The campus evacuated in a timely, orderly fashion,” President Dean Bresciani said. “This is a scenario that we have practiced and planned for and unfortunately are having to put into practice right now.”
People flooded off campus, and some were stuck in traffic for over 20 minutes. All entrances to the campus were blocked off. Bresciani estimates that 20,000 people were evacuated from the NDSU main campus, downtown campus and agriculture facilities.
Vettel said it was less than an hour and a half between the time the message went out and the evacuation was complete. “People on campus did exactly what they were supposed to do,” he said.
The prompt evacuation was largely attributed to technology and social media that allowed the University to get the information out quickly.
Students living in dorms were forced to take refuge at friends’ houses and businesses close to campus.
Sadie Olson, a freshman majoring in nursing, heard the emergency alert on her television in her dorm room. “It said everyone had to be evacuated by 10:15, so I woke up my roommate and we got out of there right away,” she said. “My first thought was, ‘Is this real?’”
Ashton Wiltgen was working on homework in his dorm in Reed-Johnson when his friend asked if he saw the emergency alert email. Wiltgen, a freshman majoring in exercise science, says he definitely thought the threat was real after reading the email.
Both Olson and Wiltgen were among several students who waited out the investigation by Bison Block.
Authorities did a clean sweep of the campus, but did not reveal specifics about what buildings were searched.
“We did a comprehensive search based on the information we had,” Vettel said.
Bresciani says that all campus facilities were considered part of the investigation.
Vettel described the comprehensive search throughout campus as a coordinated effort amongst federal, state and local entities.
“I thought it went extremely well… As quickly as it was accomplished, I think it was remarkable,” he said.
Bresciani described the procedures as “textbook.”
Police came to the conclusion that every building had been swept, confirmed that the inspection had taken place as planned and deemed the campus safe at about 12:25 p.m.
“I am pleased,” Bresciani said, “that we were able to have efficiently gone through the campus, inspected what we need to inspect and reopen the campus in a timely manner.”
Campus remained closed until university operations resumed at 1 p.m. Classes resumed at 2 p.m., but many remained cancelled for the day, and many students remained off campus.
“Obviously this is a very real threat to the campus,” Bresciani said. ”We have to take it seriously, but we’ve done everything reasonable to ensure that the campus is safe.”
Authorities will continue with the investigation and will try to establish who was responsible for the incident, Vettel said.
“We are very confident that we have the information necessary to move forward with the investigation, and we really are comfortable that the safety aspect for not just the campus area, but the entire city is really just fine,” he said.
Bresciani noted the overwhelming reaction of students, faculty and staff who emailed him to ask if there was anything they could do to help with the evacuation process.
“That reflects the type of campus community I think would be the envy of other universities,” he said.
NDSU has received bomb threats in the past, but this was the first time the university had a comprehensive evacuation of campus.
Two other universities also received bomb threats and orders of evacuation Friday.
The University of Texas at Austin received a call around 8:35 a.m. from a man claiming to belong to Al-Quaida, officials said, according to the Associated Press. The caller said bombs had been placed throughout the University of Texas’ campus.
The FBI is investigating this incident and whether it is related to the bomb threat at NDSU.
Hiram College, a smaller university in Ohio, also received a bomb threat and was evacuated Friday afternoon, the Associated Press reported.
Three other telephoned bomb threats occurred in the North Dakota region last week as well.
Hector International Airport in Fargo received a threat on Tuesday; the Grand Forks airport evacuated following a threat Wednesday morning; and the downtown Radisson Hotel was evacuated Saturday after recieving a phone call of a bomb threat.
Vettel did not comment on the specifics of these other bomb threats. “We don’t want to minimize individual events” or “jump to conclusions,” he said.