TXT-U first used after bomb threat

Andy Steinke

The University had to use its new text messaging emergency-notification system, TXT-U, for the first time Wednesday morning.

An alert was sent to the nearly 10,000 people signed up for the service after a bomb threat in Willey Hall was relayed to University police.

University Deputy Police Chief Steve Johnson said Minneapolis police dispatch received the threat and notified University police.

The threat, Johnson said, was made from a Minneapolis gas station pay phone at 10:27 a.m.

University Services spokesman Tim Busse said he sent the text alert at 11:24 a.m.

“When we had all the information, and was confident it was correct, we pulled it together and sent (an alert) out,” he said.

Busse said his office received a call from University Police Chief Greg Hestness a few minutes before 11 a.m.

Busse said he gathered information from University police and shared it with Vice President of University Services Kathleen O’Brien and Emergency Management before the alert went out.

Emergency Management Director Terry Cook said Busse sent the alert because Cook was at a meeting in Bloomington Wednesday morning, but came back when he was notified of the threat.

How quickly an alert goes out to people is up to the cell-phone service vendors, Cook said, but the alert was sent to all TXT-U subscribers within 15 seconds.

“Once we press send, it is sent out by our vendor to all the cell phone providers,” he said, “so it is up to them to deliver the message.”

Cook said he thought things went smoothly, considering it was the first use of the system.

“I think it went fairly well,” Cook said. “I would like to have (the alerts) out quicker. We are looking at it to see how we can do better next time.”

Busse agreed with Cook, but said efficient emergency responses on campus could indicate larger problems.

“Unfortunately, we are getting good at this because we are having so many opportunities,” he said.

The threat disrupted classes and other events that were scheduled to take place in Willey Hall Wednesday morning.

Boynton Health Service, which had a flu clinic scheduled in the building from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., had to move back to Boynton after an hour in Willey Hall.

It was one of only two flu clinics scheduled to be on the West Bank this semester.

First-year marketing student Betsy Vose said she arrived for her class in Willey Hall only to find the building evacuated.

Vose said although this is the first time she had been directly affected by a bomb threat, she frequently hears about them.

“It seems like we always have bomb threats,” Vose said. “They’re hard to take seriously, but you want to be safe.”

History professor Carla Phillips said her history class was scheduled to meet Wednesday in the classroom beneath Willey Hall.

Ironically, she said, her class was going to talk about riots, rebellion, revolutions and violence of all kinds – including bombs – Wednesday.

Phillips said threats happen, but hoped it wasn’t serious.

“I hope it’s just a threat, someone freaking out at the end of the semester,” she said.

It turned out Phillips could be right.

By 12:45 p.m., University police reopened the building for classes after the canine unit checked the building and didn’t find anything, University Sgt. Erik Stenemann said.

This was the third bomb threat on campus this semester. All have been false alarms.

“This year’s been a banner year for bomb threats,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of them.”

Devin Henry and Jake Grovum contributed to this report.