Bomb threat reveals lack of transparency
Around 1 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 22, cell phones went off in classrooms across campus. “Wean Hamerschlag & Doherty Hall are being evacuatged [sic] for a security threat,” a university-wide notification stated. In the hours following this message, multiple — although hardly informative — updates were posted on the University Alert website, and e-mails were sent to the campus community. But more than a week after much of our campus was evacuated, we have learned almost nothing that was not included in that original 80-character alert.
Though everyone on campus has learned via rumor or fact that the “unconfirmed security threat” was actually a bomb threat, the university administration showed only a false transparency. Updates were sent during the situation, and we appreciate the information we did get. Secrecy during an emergency situation is reasonable. However, while the knowledge that police swept the buildings and pronounced them clear was reassuring, it did not tell us the facts we wanted to know.
Without clear communication from the administration, there is no way to differentiate the truth from speculation. If a land purchase on Forbes Avenue warrants an extensive explanation by President Cohon, surely a threat to our security — even a false threat — deserves more than a couple of terse and ambiguous e-mails.
Even the communication the university did provide would not have been effective in an actual crisis, where a rapid response is essential. The emergency alert system, which is ostensibly designed for situations just like these, did not notify some students by text message or phone call until more than half an hour after the original e-mail was sent and an hour after police first responded.
If Carnegie Mellon intends for students to trust its alert system, it must have a rapid, effective system of notification, and it must give students enough information to make responsible decisions.