Four colleges receive bomb threats, SDSU examines its response plan


At 9:49 a.m. on Sept. 14, thousands of students and faculty at North Dakota State University received an emergency alert telling them to evacuate the campus and all university buildings. Students and faculty at the University of Texas at Austin had received a similar message just four minutes earlier. Both universities had received bomb threats.

According to Bob Otterson, the SDSU executive assistant to the president, when news of the bomb threats broke, university officials immediately began monitoring the situation.  Those efforts were led in part by Jayme Trygstad, SDSU’s emergency management specialist.

“I was in touch with a colleague of mine in that market to know if he had any information he could share with us,” Otterson said. “It wasn’t just one person watching the television.”

In light of the threats to NDSU and UT Austin, as well as several other universities around the country, Trygstad said that he is taking a look at SDSU’s emergency management plan.

“Everybody does, and that’s no matter what the situation is,” Trygstad said. “Whether it is a bomb threat or whether it was a fire on another campus, it always reminds you to look at your plans if you haven’t in the last two months.”

For bomb threats specifically, the university has posted guidelines for anyone to follow in the event they should receive a threat. Those guidelines include a series of questions to ask and things to note if the threat is made by phone, as well as a list of what to do if the threat is made through a written message. The plan also says the university police pepartment should be contacted immediately after receiving a threat.

“The university police department is by design the first point of contact if there is a threat,” Otterson said. “After that, that is the group that then leads the assessment.”

Both Trygstad and Otterson said that any threat is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

“No two cases will be the same,” Otterson said.

Threat assessments, according to Trygstad, are based on a number of factors, such as credibility, time frame and how specific the threat is. Once a threat is assessed and a decision on how to respond has been made, officials then use the campus alert system to notify students, faculty and staff about the situation and what to do.

Many students at NDSU were notified of the campus evacuation order via text message, through a system very similar to the one used by SDSU. The campus alert system uses automatic text messages and emails to alert anyone who signs up for the program in the event of an emergency like a bomb threat or fire. At NDSU that system helped evacuate campus quickly and safely.

“The most important thing is for students to be able to be notified,” Trygstad said.

Trygstad said students should have received an email once they were registered for classes that contained the campus alert system registration information, in order for them to sign up for the system.

“It’s more difficult to notify them if they’re not (registered),” Otterson said.

The current SDSU emergency response plan has been in place for about 12 years. However, Otterson said that over the last year Trygstad has overseen a revision process for the plan. Trygstad also said that he is in the process of implementing a building warden program. The program would essentially be used to train a volunteer who works in a particular building in safety and security practices, so that they can take charge in the event of an emergency.

“It’s not implemented fully yet,” Trygstad said. “It’s designed mainly for fires, but it can also handle other evacuation emergencies or shelter in place emergencies.”

Otterson said that depending on the situation, there is a substantial list of available resources that could be used in the event of an emergency situation. Those resources include county, state and city assets, like the local fire department or the Brookings County Emergency Management Office.

“This is a cooperative effort,” Otterson said.