UT campus reopens after bomb threat, evacuation

Classes canceled for Friday

AUSTIN - The entire University of Texas campus is reopened after a bomb threat made against the school led to an evacuation Friday morning.

UT officials issued an alert at 9:51 a.m. that said "Evacuation due to threats on campus. Immediately evacuate ALL buildings and get as far away as possible." Sirens also sounded on campus. University officials said a threat of multiple bombs was called in.

Authorities said the university received a call at 8:35 a.m. from a "male with a middle eastern accent claiming to have placed bombs all around campus." He said he was with al-Qaida and the bombs would go off in 90 minutes.

UT President William Powers Jr. had all of the buildings evacuated.

"We thought the prudent thing to do was to clear our buildings. There was always a question about the credibility of the threat. We could not assure ourselves that this was not a credible threat.  We cleared the building through social media and sirens. The buildings were cleared very expeditiously before the time of the threat (was to occur). All of the buildings were evacuated because the threat was unspecified."

The alert was also issued through a text alert system and on the @UTAustin Twitter feed.

"When we send out (emergency alert) texts, it goes to over 69,000 people," said Robert Dahlstrom, the UT chief of police.

UT director of communications Rhonda Weldon said no bombs were found.

"We're very confident that the campus is safe," Powers said.

Students said the messages from the university did not explain that it was a bomb threat.

"I think that the texts that we got from the university were definitely a little vague, so everyone didn't know what to do," student Samantha Ketterer said. "People kind of thought it was a joke almost."

UT spokesman Gary Susswein said campus police were focused simply on getting students out of the buildings and were limited in what they could say on Twitter because of its 140 character limit.

Officials said via Twitter at 11:40 a.m., "All activities except classes will resume at 5 p.m. Buildings may be reentered at noon. Today's classes are cancelled."

Jessica Miller attends UT and was on campus when the alert was issued.

"The alarms started going off and we got a text message telling us to get off campus as fast as we can," Miller said. "The streets are full of people trying to figure out what to do and where to go. It's kind of just a chaotic mess. When we were told to evacuate, everyone just piled into the street and then we had a security person tell us, 'No, you have to get as far away from campus as possible. Get off campus.'"

"My roommate and I got off campus as soon as we could. All of the students are following Twitter, but we're just all confused as to what's going on right now," student Taylor Calvin said. "I don't think it's calmed down. The shuttle bus service has stopped, so kids that live off campus can't really leave. They are all just packing the streets that are lining the campus."

"It was really kind of scary the first couple of minutes that we heard the sirens," said Andreas Araiza, another student. "We thought it was a test, and then when we check our cellphones, we realized it was an alert. It's scary because of the shootings that have occurred across the country."

Students said everyone seemed to calm down when emergency crews started to leave campus.

Some students ignored the warning. Tyler Ganey, who is from Houston, said he never left a snack stand near the UT tower.

"I just thought it was a hoax," he said.

"We actually saw a lot of firefighters' trucks turn off their sirens and leave campus," Araiza said.

Powers was asked why there was more than an hour delay between when the threat was received and when the evacuation order was given.

"The first thing we do is evaluate the threat. It's easy to make a phone call. The threat was for danger in the future. If the threat had been that it would go off in five minutes, you don't have time to evaluate. You have to pull the switch. We think the process was well in advance of even the threatened danger," Powers said.

An emergency hotline was set up at 512-232-9999. More than 55,000 students attend the University of Texas at Austin.

In Fargo, North Dakota State University officials ordered the campus evacuated after receiving a bomb threat.

NDSU issued a statement shortly before 10 a.m. Friday telling all employees and students to leave campus within a half-hour because of a bomb threat. Officials did not immediately release details about the North Dakota threat and its evacuation remained in place by early afternoon. More than 14,000 students are enrolled at NDSU.

A threat was also made at Valparaiso University in Indiana. According to the university's website, "an unspecific threat to campus was made through a graffiti message alluding to dangerous and criminal activity alleged to be carried out during the chapel break period on Friday."

It is not known if the threats are related.

Copyright 2012 by Click2Houston.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.