It took just two minutes for WCU Campus Police to respond to a bomb threat made against Main Hall at 6:59 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 13. Director of Public Safety and Campus Police Chief Michael Bicking said his officers were on the scene at 7:01 p.m and called University administrators as well as other local police departments.
Fire alarms were set off and students were evacuated from the building. Many were relocated to Anderson Hall, but were told around 8 p.m. to go home after public safety officers chose to evacuate it along with Recitation Hall. Neither Anderson nor Recitation were implicated in the bomb threat or thought to be in danger. Bicking did not know why his officers shut the buildings down.
“We first heard it was an emergency evacuation, but then we were told it was a bomb threat,” Rae Dunbar, a first-year student who was in class in Main Hall at the time of the evacuation said. “I don’t think people got freaked out until they [public safety] taped off Main Hall.”
West Whiteland Township and Tredyffrin Township Police Departments were among the responding units, and within one hour, at least five bomb-sniffing dogs were inside of Main Hall. The building was cleared by 9:40 p.m. and scheduled to reopen for Wednesday morning classes. Police did not find any explosives inside.
Bicking confirmed that the threat was made from an off-campus location and his department is working with a local police department as well as federal and state agencies to locate the suspected caller. The investigation is still on-going.
The e2campus system was not activated until 8:39 p.m. – one hour and 39 minutes after the threat was made, leaving many students wondering why they were not informed of the police activity earlier. The e2campus system is the newly instituted system that sends out text and e-mail messages to students that sign up for the free service.
Bicking said that prior to Nov. 13, his department did not consider bomb threats made to a single building or location a “priority one” occurrence. Priority one occurrences were considered situations that put the entire campus in danger, such as an active shooter.
After receiving complaints from students about the text message delay, Bicking said public safety now understands that students want to be notified of single location threats such as the bomb threat made on Nov. 13. He warned, however, that if students receive too many priority one alerts, they would begin to ignore them.
On Nov. 14, the day after the first real e2campus texts were dispatched, 168 WCU students signed up to receive the alerts. Students, faculty and staff may sign up to receive e2campus alerts-which include safety and school closing messages-at www. wcupa.edu/e2campus.
From Oct.-Nov. 2003, Public Safety and students were victimized by repeated bomb threats made on Tuesdays and Thursdays between noon and 2 p.m. At least once a week for six weeks, police had to evacuate Schmucker, Main, and Anderson Halls and sweep the buildings for explosives.
Det. Sgt. Matthew Paris – who is leading the current investigation – led the 2003 investigation which resulted in the arrest and prosecution of Carl Jameel Young, a former WCU student.
–Blue light system update–
Bicking said that following the alleged assault that occurred on Wednesday, Nov. 7, and the Quad article that followed, the Dept. of Public Safety is now testing each of the 83 blue lights on and around campus at least twice a month. The previous policy called for their testing once monthly.
Bicking did acknowledge that due to a number of factors, it is possible to test one of the lights early in a day and have it fail hours later.
“They are man-made and they will fail,” he said. “That’s why I have additional officers on in evening and nighttime hours.”
He said that since the blue light system’s inception, only two crime victims have tried to push an emergency button. The Nov. 7 failure marks a 50 percent success rate.
–Drug-sniffing dog assists cops–
Piper, the drug-sniffing dog that searches for and identifies illicit drugs has aided the local police departments in the seizure of four vehicles and the arrest of eight individuals since September. She has also performed drug sweeps at a local high school.
The Department of Public Safety was able to purchase Piper and have her trained with funding it received from the Chester County District Attorney’s office.
Jeff J. Simon is a third-year student majoring in communication studies with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at QuadEIC@wcupa.edu.