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University, local officials effectively respond to bomb threat

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University of Louisiana at Lafayette officials assessed the results of last Wednesday’s collaborative interagency response to a pair of bomb threats and found communications, evacuations and street closures to be timely and effective.

On July 16, University, federal, state and local authorities responded to threats telephoned into a local television station by a caller around 5:30 a.m. who claimed to target the University campus and nearby Girard Park.

Text Alert System Worked

The University’s emergency notification system sent text alerts to all registered faculty and staff members’ cell phones and to students enrolled in summer school, despite early media reports of the system falling short, said Joey Sturm, UL Lafayette public safety director and police chief.

Joey Pons, associate director of public safety, said, “by late Friday, we had received 15 notifications from students via email or Facebook that they did not receive the text alert. Upon examining their status, we found that none are enrolled in summer classes at the University.”

Pons noted that these non-enrolled students were at no more risk than enrolled students since other safeguards were taking place, such as going door to door to evacuate students in residence halls, providing safe shelters in place, closing streets to access the campus, and communicating through the University’s website and social media.

“In any actual emergency, or even a practice drill, we take away lessons to improve for the future,” said Pons. “In this case, we recognize we have some students who live or work on campus even though they are sitting out for a semester, especially during the summer.”

Pons said the University is examining ways to broaden the ENS contact list to possibly include students who do not meet the current ENS enrollment criteria, but may have a need to know about a campus emergency that is occurring.

Sturm said University Police activated the ENS as soon as the bomb threat was assessed as having possible credibility. At the same time, ULPD ordered an evacuation of campus and initiated the criminal investigation. By 5 p.m., the investigation shifted to the Lafayette Sheriff's Office.

“We were within a conventional time frame of getting the initial message out for this type of incident. University police, with tremendous support from local and state first responders, were able to assess the threat quickly, evacuate the campus and close roads around the adjacent park and the University in a calm and controlled manner,” said Sturm.

Other Measures, Agencies Helped

He said several state and local agencies had participated in a table top exercise last summer hosted by the University that included similar circumstances.

“Using hypothetical scenarios last year, where we practiced collaborative efforts, made our collective response to the real situation go so much more smoothly,” said Sturm. “That was the consensus shared by many first responders who participated with us last summer.”

Sturm said there were already maps and plans for the street closures, and transportation procedures were in place to evacuate residents.

“We greatly benefited from having our own bomb dog on campus to immediately create safe shelters in place. Pepper proved her worth and she deserves a lot of credit,” said Sturm, referring to the department’s German shepherd explosives-detection dog. Ultimately, 12 search teams, including nine detection dogs, were assembled to finish sweeping campus.

UL Lafayette activated, for the first time, an emergency website at universityupdates.com that it had established in September 2013.

“After we launched our new University website in the spring of 2013, we focused on creating a separate emergency update website to be able to interact in a broader manner during crisis,” said Aaron Martin, director of Communications and Marketing.

“I hope we never have to use it again, but it is comforting to know that we have an effective tool should we need it,” he said.

As of Monday evening, the Lafayette Sheriff’s Office arrested a suspect believed also to be linked to an attempted armed robbery of a local business that took place as Wednesday’s bomb threat investigation was starting. No device had been found on campus, though a hoax device had been discovered at Girard Park, according to police.

Sturm said that thanks are due to several agencies, including the Lafayette Police Department; Lafayette Parish Sheriff's Office; Lafayette City Marshal; LCG Hazardous Materials Division; Scott Police; Louisiana State Police; Louisiana Office of State Fire Marshal; Acadia Parish Sheriff's Office; Baton Rouge Police; Tunica-Biloxi Tribal Police; Fort Polk 50th Military Police Detachment (US Army K-9 unit); FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Marshals Service; and U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Besides all the supporting agencies, I want to thank our University officers and all the campus emergency essential staff who made sure our students were safe and got the University back to normal so quickly,” said Sturm.

Signing up for the ENS

Pons said all students and employees should sign up for the University’s emergency notification system, which sends alerts by email, phone, and text message for immediate threats. Information about the ENS system is at safety.louisiana.edu/resource-center. If a student, faculty member, staff member, or parent has a concern about the system, he can contact Pons at safetyman@louisiana.edu.