At least for the time being, LSU’s campus remains vulnerable to public safety scares and hoaxes — such as the bomb threat that prompted an unprecedented mass evacuation Monday — as policy requires decisionmakers to err on the side of caution, officials said Tuesday.
“I don’t know how to deal with bomb threats other than to respond appropriately,” LSU System President and Chancellor William Jenkins said.
LSU is reviewing Monday’s events and could develop a new policy that would address similar threats in the future, he said.
The current policy entails investigating every threat, regardless of its believability, as if it were credible, even if it results in another 12-hour campus shutdown, LSU Police Capt. Cory Lalonde said.
“We don’t know how to stop hoaxes, in all honesty, because each circumstance is different and we have to treat them that way,” Lalonde said. Another threat “very well could lead to a situation like we had on Monday.”
The threat of investigation is likely the only weapon law enforcement agencies have to deter public safety scares like Monday’s that caused, so far, immeasurable costs in resources mobilized, man-hours and lost productivity, Lalonde said.
State Police spokesman Capt. Doug Cain struck a confident tone Tuesday, saying he believes the person who phoned in the threat will be held accountable.
“I think that’s what will happen in this case,” Cain said. “When they find out they are facing a 15-year felony plus possible federal charges, that’s our message” to whoever is responsible.
East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III said the caller possibly could face a state charge of terrorizing, which is punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a $15,000 fine.
The caller could be sentenced to up to 10 years on an equivalent federal charge, Moore said in an email.
Besides the inherent safety concerns of a bomb on campus, or the panic that could ensue either from a real or imaginary threat, LSU officials said they will have to get a better handle on the heavy traffic that gripped the campus as students, faculty and staff tried to evacuate.
The campus bus system was a particular problem as some buses packed with students moved only several car lengths in traffic during the first 30 minutes of the evacuation. At the same time, other buses near campus sorority houses sat empty with their doors open.
LSU System spokesman Charles Zewe acknowledged the university has plans to get people off campus for a number of emergency situations, such as hurricanes, but nothing specific for a bomb scare.
“We have emergency protocols and a notification system we refined after Hurricane Katrina and the tragedy at Virginia Tech, but we’re still vulnerable to something like this unless someone comes up with a better way to trace phone calls immediately and verify information right away,” Zewe said.
“We’ve had very few incidents in our history to have affected the campus in such a quick and massive way,” he added.
LSU’s Baton Rouge campus spokesman Herb Vincent said LSU has launched a wide-ranging review process to determine what worked and what didn’t during Monday’s evacuation.
“We have to review our successes and our challenges because it’s very challenging to quickly get 29,000 students, 5,000 faculty and staff, and 1,500 people at our lab school and day care off the campus,” Vincent said. “We’ll look at what worked and come up with a plan.”
The bomb threat phoned in to the parish 911 call center at 10:32 a.m. Monday set off a hurried response as federal, city, university and parish law enforcement agencies mobilized and the campus was ordered evacuated.
U.S. Attorney Don Cazayoux said his office was told that the caller said there were three bombs on campus.
The university’s administration ordered the evacuation around 11:30 a.m. as university staffers and bomb technicians scoured LSU’s 250 buildings one by one, LSU Police said. Bomb-sniffing dogs were used in a targeted capacity, police reported.
Advocate staff writer
contributed to this report.
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