Not long ago a discarded hatbox found at a campus parking lot most likely would have been kicked aside or ignored. Maybe a good citizen would have picked it up and chucked it in the nearest trash receptacle. Today, it sets off warning bells and a chain of events that is mostly over-kill.
Now a “suspicious package” brings the full force of campus police, local city police, the bomb squad, the fire department and community alarmists closing roads and access routes. Many times entire college campuses are evacuated.
So what constitutes a credible threat? Of course, campus and city first responders have to react to worst case scenario, but do we call for reinforcement every time there’s a stray backpack or paper bag left unattended?
An inordinate amount of bomb scares and threats have been reported across the country since the Boston Marathon bombing April 18. In California, these threats have increased severely.
Cal State L.A. was evacuated on the same day as the Boston Marathon, after a bomb threat was phoned in to the police. The caller said there was a bomb at that campus and another at Cal State Berkeley. Officials at Berkeley decided not to close the school.
This kind of threat has to be taken seriously until proven otherwise, but later that same day someone spotted a foot-long package on top of a recycling bin at Cabrillo College in Aptos, Calif. The campus was evacuated until the local gendarmes brought in the bomb squad with their robot and destroyed the box.
Aptos, a town of slightly more than 6,000 inhabitants, has a bomb squad with a robot. A box found by a recycling bin, which was probably full of boxes, (after all that’s where boxes go,) caused a campus to shut down. Boom.
These are only a few of the numerous false alarms reported nationwide during the week following the explosions in Boston.
Understandably, tension is high and nerves are tight. There are real threats to security out there, but a box on a recycling bin?
Some GCC students think officials did not do enough when the suspicious package at the GCC parking structure on April 22. Comments on the school’s Facebook page implied the campus should have been shut down and they called for more information from the media. Like the phrase that is passed along in a whisper to 10 people, the facts were completely misconstrued. Some thought it was a bag, others were told there was an explosion. Some wondered why the Alert-U text did not come.
The scary package in this case turned out to be a hat box. Young students were probably frightened by the unknown usage of this antique storage device.
Bomb threats, on the other hand, are another problem. Opportunists and pranksters are wasting valuable hours of law enforcement and fire department time, and stoking the flames of an already paranoid society.
A student who is not prepared for a final exam might consider calling in a bomb threat to shut down classes for a day. Maybe some ne’er-do-well ran out of excuses to cut classes and got the idea from the internet
This is not a matter to be taken lightly. Bomb threats are a serious felony and can net 10 years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine. Some states think that is not enough.
After a bomb threat at the University of Texas in Dallas, state lawmakers are proposing tougher laws that would add more fines and jail time in addition to the existing federal laws.
Maybe California should follow in their footsteps.
The first time some joker goes to jail for 20 years, other potential pranksters might think twice before disrupting society for their own amusement.
As far as those suspicious packages go—use common sense. One can either live in constant fear and let the real terrorists win, or remember that a package is just a package.
I for one will continue to pick up that box and throw it in the trash.