A recent bomb scare has some students concerned about how prepared the school would be in the event of a real catastrophe, but Campus Safety Services is confident that Temple is ready.
An unknown female called the dining services area of the Student Center on April 14 at about 2:30 p.m. and told a manager that a bomb had been placed in a locker inside the building. The Student Center was evacuated by 3:16 p.m. as Temple and Philadelphia police officers brought in a K-9 unit to search the building.
They came up empty-handed, but some are concerned that if an actual bomb were to be planted in a building on campus, 45 minutes might not be enough time to properly evacuate. On Sept. 11, it only took one hour for the south tower of the World Trade Center to collapse after being hit by a hijacked passenger jet, according to CNN.
“There’s a lot that goes into it when you’re handling a situation like that,” said Charles Leone, deputy director of the Campus Safety Services. “First of all, you don’t want panic. You really want to analyze the situation in and of itself. Each one has its own merit. You don’t want to go in with a blanket plan.”
After the bomb threat was called in, Leone and other officers from Campus Safety Services split up into groups, calmly approached students who were in building and asked them to leave.
“There wasn’t any immediate danger at that point,” said Leone. “I was the last to leave the building. I was confident enough that I stayed in the building. I would not put students at risk.”
Some students in the Student Center that day said the procedure used by Campus Safety to evacuate was preferable to a louder, more general announcement that might create a state of chaos unnecessarily. Others were concerned about waiting that long to evacuate when a bomb might be about to go off.
“You can’t sugarcoat a bomb threat and tiptoe to each table,” said freshman Faye Murman, who was in the Student Center when the evacuation took place. “I didn’t think that anything was going to happen, but the one thing that worried me was how slowly they reacted and they came over to each individual table, presumably to avoid a riot.”
Murman said that a quicker evacuation would have been more effective in safeguarding the well-being of students.
According to Leone, there are different threat levels involved in bomb scare situations. If a vague threat is phoned in, Campus Safety will do as they did on April 14, and calmly request that students and faculty leave the building. If a device that may be potentially explosive or other hazard material is seen, evacuation would be much quicker, sometimes using the building’s fire alarm system. The response, said Leone, depends on the seriousness of the threat.
In a real catastrophe, Leone is confident Temple students and faculty would be as safe as possible.
“I’d say from an administrative standpoint, we’re very well prepared,” said Leone. “We’ve done a lot of planning on this at the University.”
A study released earlier this month by Temple’s Center for Preparedness, Research, Education and Practice (C-PREP) said Pennsylvania residents “are confident yet unprepared for emergencies and terrorist attacks,” according to a press release.
A study released in December by Trust for America’s Health, a nonprofit organization, ranked each state in its preparedness for terrorist attacks. Out of a possible 10 points, Pennsylvania scored four.
“I can’t fathom somebody targeting Temple over the city of Philadelphia as a whole, if they target Philly at all,” said Murman, who lives on campus.
“Temple is not a high-end target. If anything should happen, more than likely, it would happen in the center of town, and we would get a residual effect from that,” Leone said.
Campus Safety Services has worked in conjunction with the Philadelphia Police Department as well as the FBI to plan for a worst-case scenario. In the event of a major attack, the University would be divided into quadrants and, depending on the scenario, students could be housed in several of the larger structures on campus, like the Liacouras Center and McGonigle Hall.
“We’d make sure there’s enough food and resources to sustain people inside a particular area for a few days, if needed,” said Leone.
“We have to be very practical in how we approach these types of issues,” he continued. We don’t want to be an alarmist, but we also want to be prepared. You want to be balanced somewhere in the middle. That’s what we try to do.”
John P. Titlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.