Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bomb threat: is it news?

UPDATE: Friday morning, 10:24 a.m.

Today's RedEye has printed a wire report quoting DePaul spokesperson Denise Mattson's press statement on yesterday's events. After contacting DePaul's media relations to clarify what "public address systems" referred to in that story, I spoke with Denise Mattson about the credibility of yesterday's post, "Bomb Threat: Is it news?"

Last evening I posted an update to the bomb threat report stating that a reliable source shared information about a search for a potential shooter at Lincoln Park Campus. The report says the threat received was not being taken seriously by those who knew, but that it was being thoroughly investigated by campus safety in conjunction with Chicago Police. I was told this information directly by a uniformed member of DePaul Public Safety as I was asked to assist in checking a women's bathroom for occupants.

The statement by DePaul Media Relations on the record for this report is that the authoritative source, DePaul's Campus Safety Director, has denied any threat of a school shooter and that no search was conducted last evening. Ms. Mattson referred to yesterday's update about the potential shooter search as "grossly inaccurate."

To be clear, the events posted to this blog relating to the search were witnessed first hand by me. I am attesting to the truth of this post's report. The reliable source is me.

The intention of this post is to share facts as they become available. Though Public Safety is on record denying that any search for a shooter occurred last night, I maintain that it did occur.

DePaul media relations also clarified what measures were taken during the bomb scare that were printed in the RedEye as "public alerts" other than e-mail. They contacted police when they learned of the threat. CPD decided to call for a precautionary evacuation. The "public alert system" utilized beyond e-mails to the university community included the loudspeaker and the electronic message board system installed within the library. Personal notifications were distributed via e-mail, in addition to the campus alert posted to the front page of the DePaul website.

UPDATED: 5:15 p.m.

After a day of commotion surrounding the false-alarm bomb threat at DePaul's campus library, it turns out the ''all-clear'' was not completely true.

As of 5:00 p.m. DePaul Campus Safety are combing the University in collaboration with the Chicago Police Department, building to building, in search of a potential school shooter. A reliable source has shared information that the threat is being disbelieved by most students, but that these precautions are necessary.

While the campus deploys every safety official in its ranks to the search, DePaulians are not desensitized to terrorism threats. Since the investigation is being conducted discreetly, the community is functioning as if all threats have been resolved.

To demonstrate the seriousness of the search, a campus safety officer has been waiting 10 minutes for access to a ladies bathroom facility in one of the classroom buildings. No stone is going unturned.

Today at 11:30 a.m. the Richardson Library on DePaul's Lincoln Park campus was evacuated after a bomb threat. The building, 2350 N. Kenmore Ave, was inspected by Chicago Police and a special arson unit throughout the afternoon. At 2:30 p.m., Campus Safety issued the all-clear and announced the re-opening of the building.

An anonymous Richardson librarian reported by mobile at 12:09 p.m. that evacuees were all in waiting, many passing the time in the adjacent Schmitt Academic Center (SAC). When the building reopened, the source reported that it was back to business as usual, "but had been crawling with police. It was really disruptive. This has never happened here before."

The initial e-mail alert sent at 12:06 p.m. from the university asked "that you do not call Public Safety, Media Relations or the university operator for more information."

DePaul's emergency alert procedures have been improved significantly in the last year. Text alerts have been tested and classes interrupted by emergency alert alarm tests. Today, however, the alert system was not utilized to minimize the viral capacity of the threat.

Senior English major, Brittany Julious, wondered where her emergency text was, venting, "after all this, they alerted us about the gas leak in the loop, but nothing today."

Brittany also had her hopes dashed when misinformation led her to believe classes might be cancelled today. Though the library is her favorite place on campus, she would've been totally content with a rescheduled midterm.

"What if I wasn't checking my e-mail at that particular moment, how would I have any idea?"

Breaking a nearly three hour silence, DePaul Campus Safety resolved the threat on the school's site and via e-mail. Addressing concerns raised by the notification procedures utilized, they explained the DPU alert system, involving both phone, text, and e-mailed notifications, are used in life threatening emergencies, such as the gas leak at the Loop's DePaul Center this winter.

"...Emergency communication staff were prepared to issue a DPU Alert if the situation were to escalate. Thankfully, that did not become necessary. DePaul regrets the inconvenience this unfounded threat caused."

DePaulia writer and senior Laura Bollin is responding to this assessment with disagreement, asking in the DePaulOnline blog, "how is a bomb threat not life threatening?"

Several programs scheduled within the library facility will need to be rescheduled, and prospective library patrons, including faculty, were detained from obtaining critical documentation for the afternoon.

Due to the e-mail sent from DePaul's media relations team, all faculty and staff would not go on the record to voice their views officially, but many will be forthcoming.

As this investigation progresses, details of the offender's identity are still unknown, but tips are being evaluated.

DePaul student journalists will continue to report this story as it unfolds.

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