It took more than an hour after the University of Montana Law School building was evacuated as the result of a threatening e-mail before the rest of the campus was notified through the school’s emergency alert system.
Law School Dean Irma Russell sent out a message to all law school students and faculty at 11:13 a.m. telling them to leave the building. It wasn’t until 12:27 p.m. that the rest of the campus received e-mails and text messages through the university’s emergency communication system alerting them of the threat and police blockade.
By that time, yellow caution tape already circled the law school building, traffic was being rerouted, and the building’s fire alarm was sounding across the Oval.
When asked about the delay, UM Executive Vice President Jim Foley said that “all appropriate authorities – meaning the city police, the sheriff’s office, public safety, and administrators at U of M – we gathered together to make risk assessments and decisions related to emergency response notifications and investigation of any threat. Those processes were followed in this case, and from the law enforcement standpoint, the investigation will continue.”
Katie Sullivan was in the William J. Jameson Law Library studying for next Monday’s bar exam when the fire alarm sounded. That’s how students studying there knew to the leave the building. Sullivan imagined it was probably a drill, even though she thought it seemed odd to have a fire drill during the summer when few students occupy the building.
As students congregated outside, “the rumors started flying,” she said. Only after phoning a friend, who is also a law school student, did Sullivan realize it was neither a fire nor a drill.
Russell’s e-mail telling faculty and students to leave the building immediately didn’t give a reason for the evacuation.
“I’ve gotten the emergency text messages before,” Sullivan said, referring to UM’s emergency alert system. She looked down at her cell phone, but at 12:20 p.m. on Tuesday, the university had not yet notified the campus community.
About seven minutes later, at 12:27 p.m., university faculty and students began receiving text and e-mail alerts, which read, “In response to a disturbing e-mail police presence is in place at the UM Law school. No confirmation of a real threat. More information will follow.” The same message was posted in a red banner atop the main page of UM’s website.
Initial notification to some faculty and staff of the threat came at the same time that the university sent a second
e-mail that all was clear and nothing had been found.
This was the first time, to Foley’s knowledge, that UM has had to use the emergency alert system since it was implemented following the 2007 shootings on the Virginia Tech campus.
“I think the process worked reasonably well,” Foley said. “As an institution, we look at things as to how we can adjust and do things better, and that’s a good practice.”
The emergency response team on campus will meet in the next day or so to assess the plan’s effectiveness, he said.
Students, faculty, staff and administrators must opt in to the program in order to receive emergency text and e-mail alerts. For proprietary reasons, and so as not to jeopardize future emergency responses, Foley would not share the exact number of users in the system other than to say it’s a “vast majority” of the campus community.
The emergency alert system was tested in April, according to a story published in the Montana Kaimin, the campus newspaper.
Reporter Chelsi Moy can be reached at 523-5260 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATED 2 p.m. : An e-mailed threat of a gunman on top of the University of Montana School of Law School Tuesday morning ended without incident after emergency response crews cleared that building and others.
The threat was e-mailed to a Law School faculty member, and described someone being on the roof, or on their way to the roof, with a gun. The threats prompted a massive emergency response on campus, and the Law School was cleared and declared safe shortly before 1 p.m.
Campus police were assisted by city officers as they checked the roofs on the Law School and the PAR/TV building and searched the interiors of both buildings. Some students were studying for the bar exam inside the Law School, which was evacuated.
"We’re just trying to keep people away from the law building until we can clear the area," said Assistant Police Chief Mike Brady.
One person with a backpack was checked immediately after the response, but no one was arrested. Authorities staged their response at the intersection of Sixth Street and Maurice Avenue, and closed the streets to traffic east of Arthur Avenue. Alleys were closed in some areas around the Law School.
City police, the county’s armored vehicle and the members of the Montana Highway Patrol are assisting campus po-lice.
At approximately 12:27 p.m., public safety officials at UM sent out an emergency text message to students who sub-scribe to the service. An assistant to the dean of the Law School received the threatening e-mail at 10:41 p.m.
MISSOULA - Police late this morning are responding to e-mailed threats to faculty members at the University of Montana School of Law about the possibility of someone being on the roof - or headed for the roof - with a gun.
Campus police have checked the roofs on the Law School and the PAR/TV building, and have cleared them. The interiors of both buildings also are being checked, and the Law School, where some students were studying for the bar exam, was evacuated.
"We're just trying to keep people away from the law building until we can clear the area," said Assistant Police Chief Mike Brady.
One person with a backpack was checked, but no one has been arrested.
Sixth Street east of Arthur Avenue is closed, as are some areas around the Law School.
City police, the county's armored vehicle and the members of the Montana Highway Patrol are assisting campus police.