Pitt adapts emergency response in face of persistent bomb threats
PITTSBURGH—The University of Pittsburgh announced yesterday that it's adjusting how it will respond to persistent bomb threats as students prepare to take their final exams.
In the past two months, the university has received bomb threats almost daily via email, but no explosives have been found after more than 100 searches, according to The Wall Street Journal. The university has continually evacuated buildings targeted in those threats and swept them with bomb-sniffing dogs. But the school is changing its emergency response policy and will not automatically evacuate a building that has been threatened, a change that reflects "the expert advice we have received from law enforcement professionals, the experience we have gained over the past several weeks, and the special circumstances associated with finals week," according a statement yesterday from the school's provost, Patricia Beeson.
The new policy will isolate all final exams to five buildings, each of which will be swept for explosives prior to the beginning of each exam day. Security will be increased on these buildings during the day and when the buildings are unoccupied. Only students with valid Pitt ID cards will be allowed to enter the buildings, and all bags will be searched. In the event of a bomb threat to any of these buildings, law enforcement will assess the threat and determine its credibility. "These exam buildings will be evacuated and ENS alerts sent only if it is determined that there is an imminent threat," Beeson writes. "Even if it is determined that there is no imminent threat, buildings will be promptly swept for explosives, but with no immediate evacuation."
Pitt will also sweep residence halls every evening. If a threat is received against a dorm, it will be assessed by law enforcement and, if deemed not to be imminent, an emergency alert will be sent to tell community members that a threat has been made, but is not believed to be genuine. Evacuation at that point would be voluntary, not mandatory, Beeson writes.
Pitt's response to the bomb threats has been exemplary, and goes beyond what's expected of campus security professionals in terms of an emergency response, Paul Verrecchia, chief of police at the College of Charleston and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, told Security Director News. "And even now that they're going to do a preliminary sweep of buildings every day prior to opening the buildings, that's going way beyond," Verrecchia said. "So it's obvious that they're still taking the safety and welfare of the students, faculty and staff, and concerns of parents, into strong consideration in how they have decided to handle it from this point on."
Though he doesn't have hard numbers, Verrecchia guessed that given the number of bomb threats that are made every year throughout the country "very few buildings are actually evacuated." Most are assessed by law enforcement officials and deemed to be illegitimate, he said.
When the bomb threat is in a university environment during final exam time, the balance needed to keep students, staff and faculty safe while maintaining the educational mission, including graduating seniors in time to arrive at new jobs or graduate school, is tough to find, Verrecchia said. "It sounds to me like they're doing an excellent job of balancing all those considerations."