Westminster Bomb Scare Raises Questions About Campus Communication and Safety Protocols
BY COURTNEY GALLAGHER
EDITOR IN CHIEF
Last Monday’s bomb scare and evacuation prompted questions about how well the college’s communication and safety procedures were followed.
After a student reported a suspicious metal canister in a parking lot, local law enforcement quickly arrived at the scene, Westminster security began evacuating the Quad, Mueller Leadership Hall and Champ Auditorium, and the area was sealed off to traffic at Seventh Street.
However, a delay in campus communication left many students confused or panicked. Although the college sent text message notifications, not all students are signed up for the service. And by the time Westminster alerted students to the situation through email, outside media outlets had already released information.
Kelsey Ray, ’19, said she was on her way to class when the Fulton Police arrived and later received a text from her cousin in Columbia asking if she had been evacuated.
“At the time, I had no idea what my cousin was talking about and neither did any classmates around me,” Ray said. “I did not like that my cousin from a different town knew more about the situation at Westminster than I did.”
She said she learned that the quad had been evacuated from other students when she walked through JCI on her way back from class.
“Finally, after all of that had already happened, we got the email informing everyone on campus,” Ray said. “I think that if that was a real bomb and not a suspicious package that our campus would have been in danger. The alert to the students was not as quick as it could have been.”
Jack Benke, director of campus safety and security, said it is difficult to prevent the news media from releasing information first because the groups monitor law enforcement.
“It’s a learning experience for us,” Benke said of Monday’s scare. “The one thing that told us was that we probably need to get that message out sooner.”
He explained that the Textcaster alert, which he said everyone should sign up for, is always sent first in any emergency situation, followed by an email. If necessary, an announcement would then be made over the campus intercom. In the event of an active shooter on campus, an alarm would sound.
“We have one of the most thorough communication plans,” Rob Crouse, director of media and public relations, said. He added that a meeting was held the following day to see how the experience could be used to fine tune procedures.
“Everyone seemed to be very pleased with the system in place,” Crouse said.
He added that staff members “stepped up” and covered the responsibilities of those missing. For example, because the college is in the process of hiring a new social media director, several people had to assume that additional responsibility last Monday.
Both Benke and Crouse commended the Fulton Police for arriving on campus within minutes.
“We’re proud of the way everyone responded,” Benke said. “I really applaud Jackie Weber and her RAs. I was very pleased with their response to that incident,” he said, adding that they were a tremendous help in the quad.
“It was harmless, but everyone got to through the process,” Crouse said. He added that the student who reported the metal canister did the right thing and that everyone should do what that student did and report anything suspicious for the safety and well-being of the entire campus.