Following The University of Texas at Austin’s campus-wide evacuation this morning, UT president Bill Powers explained how his law enforcement and communications teams handled the challenge to public safety—the response to a telephoned bomb threat.
Officials had received a call to the general UT-Austin number around 8:30 a.m. from someone claiming there were bombs planted throughout the campus. No buildings were specified.
UT’s crisis management team, Powers said, then worked with other agencies at the state and federal levels to determine the threat’s credibility. The decision to evacuate all campus buildings was made at 9:30 a.m., and an emergency text went out to nearly 69,000 subscribers shortly thereafter.
“It got to the point where the prudent thing was to clear all buildings,” Powers explained at a noon press conference.”We couldn’t assure ourselves that this was not a credible threat.”
The president faced tough questions from the media about the timing of the evacuation order. It had been reported that the caller gave a detonation time 90 minutes from his 8:30 call, which would have been around 10 a.m. The text alerts, however, didn’t reach students until 9:53—seeming to leave little time for them to reach safety.
Powers said the caller didn’t specify anything would occur exactly at 90 minutes, but instead could potentially occur after that timeframe.
He added that the evacuation was intended to clear buildings, not the entire Forty Acres. “We were just getting students out of the buildings,” he said. “We weren’t trying to get the students off of the campus.”
Powers declined to speculate about whether this morning’s bomb threats and evacuations at North Dakota State and Valparaiso universities had any connection to UT.
The president also would not speak to the caller’s accent—previously reported by University spokespeople, then news outlets, to be a Middle Eastern one claiming a connection to Al Qaeda.
He could not say whether the caller had been traced or taken into custody but added: “We have been working very close with city, state, and federal authorities, and we know a great deal.”
All activities except classes will resume at 5 p.m. Today’s classes have been canceled.
Photo by Andrew Torrey. Courtesy the Daily Texan.