Threat evacuation should be voluntary

Students can keep a close eye on individual rooms to make sure nobody sneaks in a big cartoon bomb.

by John Hoff

Have you ever had an exciting day you didn’t know about until later? That was my Tuesday, Oct. 24, when somebody sent an e-mail bomb threat to the University police making reference to Blegen Hall.

To think I was in Blegen Hall while it was under threat but about six hours elapsed before the building was evacuated. Why, I could have been, um, well, actually nothing would have happened to me.

I can’t really criticize the University police for not checking their e-mail accounts more frequently. Really, you would think a mad bomber warning potential victims by e-mail would have tossed a few more police addresses on the “CC” line.

In fact, I think this is a case of the police being a little too effective, because I don’t think it was necessary to evacuate those buildings at all.

In fact, I’d like to suggest two policy changes some would consider radical, but I think these are just common sense: 1. Evacuation during bomb threats should be voluntary. 2. Local media, including this publication, should not publicize bomb threats.

First, history shows bomb threats on this campus present less danger than burning popcorn in a microwave.

Sure, some bomb threats may need to be taken seriously. If the threat comes along with a rambling manifesto written in human blood, and police dogs trained to sniff out explosives are yelping with excitement, then evacuation makes sense.

But for these all-too-common “dog ate my homework” plain vanilla bomb threats, the best response is no response at all. Sure, police should inform people in the buildings, just as we are informed of severe weather when sirens go off. But then what happens?

Most of us shrug and go on as though nothing were out of the ordinary.

Evacuation should be voluntary. I wouldn’t go so far as to say “evacuation is for wimps.” Indeed, there may be individuals who had a feeling that morning it was their unlucky day, or who are particularly prone to being kings and queens of drama.

If these individuals still want to evacuate, despite a policy saying it is not required, I won’t sit there saying, “Wimp. Whiner. Sure, let the terrorists win.”

Rather, I will just think such things really loudly, trying to broadcast contempt with my facial expressions. I’m sure I won’t be alone. Further peer pressure to remain steadfast might include rolling of the eyes and irritated sighs of annoyance.

The police can still search the buildings, but classes should go on as normally as possible. So, naturally, my voluntary evacuation proposal excludes instructors and teaching assistants. These individuals should be required to remain at their place of duty, setting a good example and carrying on with classes.

Maybe, after the threat is over, somebody with the University administration can send out a thankful mass e-mail to instructors and teaching assistants who didn’t evacuate.

Hopefully words like “brave” and “courage” won’t be tossed around, because that would cheapen greater acts of bravery and courage, like when little children get routine vaccinations without making a big, teary fuss.

In fact, with or without a policy change, calmly refusing to evacuate may be the best course of conduct.

Besides, isn’t evacuation just what a mad bomber wants? Oh, sure, everybody goes to the sidewalks and courtyards, bunched up together, right next to garbage cans transformed into improvised explosive devices.

Or, um, booby-trapped trees!

No, I say better to stay inside a building rather than fall victim to such devious diversion. Students can keep a close eye on individual rooms, to make sure nobody sneaks in a big cartoon bomb with bundled up sticks of dynamite and a digital clock with red numbers dramatically counting down to zero.

(Oh, good heavens, which wire should we cut?)

Besides, who wants to be outside with suicidal squirrel squads which might be trained to set off the booby traps?

“No thanks, officer,” students might say in response to orders to evacuate. “We feel a lot safer in here.”

Better, however, to simply change our campus bomb threat policy than have spontaneous civil disobedience. Under such a revised policy, students who choose to leave should be treated as absent without an excuse.

After all, everybody suspects the bomb threats are the work of individuals whose ravenous canine companions made quick lunch of their homework. Therefore, giving special academic breaks due to bomb threats just feeds into more disruptions.

Second, publicizing these pathetic threats just encourages more threats.

Yes, this column itself kind of publicizes bomb threats. Well, my excuse is I’m trying to end them, and so discussion is necessary. But if somebody wants to email me a bomb threat, feel free. I’ll ignore it, so I can be entirely consistent.

In fact, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to turn up “media ethics” discussion about whether bomb threats should be publicized at all, and “school examination time” is mentioned as particularly prone to increased bomb threats.

The media don’t usually write news stories about residence halls being evacuated due to pranksters pulling fire alarms, so why bother writing about lame, empty bomb threats? These threats disrupt our work and studies, making us less productive. That is the only problem here, not the possibility anybody will actually be blown to smithereens.

Virginia Tech was a different situation. Two people turning up shot dead in a dorm is much different than an anonymous email, six hours old.

This is truly a case where, in the words of FDR, the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.

John Hoff welcomes comments at [email protected]