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Apparent bomb threat shuts down North Hall

September 29, 2006

Article written by: Helen Clarke and Shalena Janis

North Hall was evacuated at 9:30 a.m. Friday while a potential bomb threat was being investigated.

Police were contacted by Public Safety at 8:50 a.m. about a phone conversation that made reference to a bomb in North Hall, River Falls Police Chief Roger Leque said. RFPD arrived on campus to investigate the claim, and eventually made a decision with Provost Charles Hurt that the building needed to be evacuated.

A suspicious phone call from a campus location was made Thursday to an office in North Hall, Leque said. The female caller was reportedly “rambling,” and it was difficult for the individual taking the call to understand what she wanted, he said.

The caller eventually said, “A bomb goes off in North Hall,” Leque said, adding that she then laughed and said she didn’t mean it.

Police know the identity of the caller, and a continuing investigation will determine what action will be taken from this point forward.

Though the full police report has not been completed, Hurt said Public Safety was notified of the phone call by the office of Tom Weiss, director of Procurement Services.
The decision to evacuate North Hall was precautionary.

“I made a determination to be safe and will do it again,” Hurt said. “I cannot put faculty, staff and students at risk.”

The Human Resources department was contacted by Hurt to execute evacuation procedures, said HR Director Kathy Schultz.

“I was told there was a problem with the building,” she said.

Schultz said her staff was divided into pairs and assigned to separate floors to inform people to get their personal belongings, shut off computers and vacate the building.
“I think what we did was very good,” she said. “Everything went quick and calmly.”

The decision to go to each office and classroom on foot was more effective than a fire alarm because it created less confusion and panic in the building, Schultz said, adding that North Hall does not have a PA system for mass communication.

“It really only took three to five minutes to get everyone out,” she said.
Students, faculty and staff who had been in the building were directed to the Student Center, where they were told to await further instructions.

At that time, a police investigator was in contact with the woman who made the questionable phone call, and information obtained led officials to determine that the building was safe, Leque said.

North Hall was reopened around 11:20 a.m.

Hurt said he believes the situation was handled in the correct manner.

“We have learned some things about this,” Hurt said. “This was a good learning event; it shows how we work with other entities, like the River Falls Police Department.”

If this incident was considered a bomb threat, people were to be at least 300 feet from the building, according to the UW-River Falls Classified Employee Handbook. Yet signs were posted on North Hall doors directing students to alternate locations for their 11:15 a.m. classes, and students and staff could be seen standing near the building, well within the 300-foot limit.

Police and Public Safety placed a barricade several feet back from North Hall’s southwest entrance, but other doorways were simply blocked off with police tape.
See the Oct. 6 issue of the Student Voice for more on this story.