Bomb threat in Cotter passes quickly
Early in the morning of Wednesday, October 6, the security switchboard operator received an anonymous call that said, “There is a bomb in the Spa,” before immediately hanging up.
The bomb threat, made at 6:25 a.m., prompted the College to shut down Cotter Union and nearby Lovejoy to allow Security, Waterville Police, Colby's Emergency Response Team and a State Police K-9 Bomb Unit to assess the threat. The Spa area and the Bookstore were checked by the bomb dog and the rest of Cotter Union was checked by Security, the Physical Plant Department (PPD) and Dining Services.
As the situation developed, the administration sent out several emails informing students, staff and faculty of the threat’s status.
“We have locked down the building and local authorities are on the scene to ensure that the building is safe. We ask that all students stay away from the building until further notice,” Barbara Moore, vice president and senior associate dean of students, wrote in the first email sent to students at 7:26 a.m.
Carole Levine, a merchandising clerk at the College Bookstore, arrived at work to find several Waterville and Maine State Police department vehicles outside the building. “It was terrifying,” Levine said. “I couldn’t imagine why there were so many flashing lights surrounding the building and the first thing I worried about was students’ safety.” Cotter Union was evacuated, and workers like Levine were not allowed to enter the building. The authorities used bomb-sniffing dogs to thoroughly inspect the building in order to locate any explosive device on the premises.
To reduce the threat of injury to students, the administration canceled classes taking place in Lovejoy before 11 a.m.; however, another email was sent out just an hour and a half after the original, at 8:56 a.m.: “While the events of this morning will likely cause some disruption and confusion, your patience and cooperation has been very much appreciated,” Michael Donihue, associate vice president for academic affairs and associate dean of faculty wrote.
Only four minutes later at 9:01 a.m., Vice President Sally Baker sent out another email that matter-of-factly stated, “The situation in Cotter Union has been resolved, and both it and Lovejoy are open.”
The ambiguous nature of the threat in addition to the swift, quiet resolution caused concerns about student safety and notification of potential danger. Many students cited that they were not aware of a bomb threat because email was not an effective form of urgent communication. There is a system in place—Connect-Ed—which would notify the campus of a security threat on a wider, more efficient scale than emails, but it was not employed in this case.
“Because it was so early, I hadn’t gotten around to check[ing] my email,” Abby Crocker ’13 said. She said she was concerned because if she had not checked her email, she would not have known of potential danger.
In response to concern about the the College’s choice of action, Vice President Baker sent out a final email. “Cotter Union was secured quickly, a cordon was placed around its perimeter, and the community was notified to avoid the area,” Baker said. “The cooperation of all concerned allowed us to clear Cotter and Lovejoy for use by about 9 a.m. and minimized disruption to activities on campus.”
The Connect-ED emergency notification system and the on-campus sirens and loudspeakers were not used in this situation because, as Baker wrote, “That level of response is reserved for life-threatening emergencies and for circumstances under which everyone on campus must take action to protect themselves from harm. Those on the scene this morning determined that the circumstances did not present a life-threatening emergency and that the ‘official announcements’ method was the appropriate way to notify campus of a situation that was fully managed and under control.”
“It was an excellent response by all involved with very good cooperation with local Law Enforcement. The Police are following up with a couple of suspects,” Director of Security Peter Chenevert said.