So I know it’s been kinda freaky all of the security issues I’ve been reporting about at CMU. Well, I (and 10,000 of my bestest friends) got this as an email from the President Cohon yesterday. It explains some thin
Dear Members of the Carnegie Mellon Community:
In the wake of three bomb threats and the major water outage in the last three weeks, I am writing to provide some context and to urge your continued attention should future emergencies occur. Let me say at the outset that your safety and well-being are paramount and, more than any other considerations, they have been and will continue to be the basis for our response to emergencies. Let me also thank you for your cooperation and patience.
What is Going On?
With four significant incidents in such a short period of time, it’s natural to wonder just what is going on and whether this is typical for Carnegie Mellon.
The three bomb threats, all received via anonymous e-mails sent to apparently random
Andrew addresses, appear to be part of a national campaign. Carnegie Mellon is one of a dozen or so universities that have received similar threats. No bombs were found on any of the campuses. We promptly reported all three threats to the Pittsburgh Police and the FBI.
Other than the suspicious package incident last April – when a military relic was mistaken for an actual bomb – and a bomb threat in 2004, Carnegie Mellon has not experienced other incidents of this type for the last ten years or more. We can’t know if there will be more in the future.
Regarding the Water Outage
The water outage is a different matter entirely. A water main ruptured on Centre Avenue, disrupting service to the entire campus. Losing water is more than an inconvenience for fire-suppression systems, many lab experiments, and our primary communication and computing infrastructure which relies on cooling that is provided by chilled water. Major water disruptions can also create a variety of health issues. With the restoration of water service, the Allegheny County Heath Department issued a warning about consuming the water until water known to have been recently treated could fill the system.
In America today, water system failures are regrettably common, though disruptions to our service have been rare. Urban water systems are part of the nation’s infrastructure challenge that will take many years to address. We can be confident that the campus will face future water related emergencies like serious flooding (which we experienced over the summer), as well as water disruptions.
How Does Carnegie Mellon Respond to Emergencies?
Carnegie Mellon has had an emergency response plan for many years. It lays out who in the administration is responsible for what, including dealing with the immediate threat and communicating with the campus community. The plan is reviewed and updated regularly, and it received special and intense attention after the Virginia Tech shootings in April.
There are decisions and judgments that must be made quickly in every incident. How credible is the threat? How do we respond to the threat? For example, should we evacuate a building that is mentioned in a bomb threat? To whom should we communicate and what should we say?
At Carnegie Mellon, our answers to questions like these and the nature of our response are shaped by two principles. First and foremost, the safety of the campus community is paramount and trumps all other considerations. Second, clear, rapid and open communication is essential. We will err on the side of telling you more than you care to know rather than decide for you that you don’t need or want to know something.
One of the truisms in emergency response is that practice is essential. Regrettably, we have had a lot of practice in the last three weeks. Every time something like these incidents occurs, we study our response to look for ways to improve. We are doing that now, but I can state with confidence that the recent responses, and especially communication, were far more effective than our response to the bomb scare in April. We acknowledge that some people felt inconvenienced by the 5:30 a.m. AlertNow telephone calls regarding the safety of our water. We have learned from that and will factor it in as we consider sending AlertNow messages in the future-always keeping in mind that safety is paramount no matter what time of day it is or whether someone might feel inconvenienced.
One of the key reasons we have become more effective is the AlertNow system which allows us to contact subscribers (currently more than 5,000) via telephone in a short period of time. This is a new system for us and for you. Your participation is voluntary. We urge you to sign up if you haven’t done so. You can enroll at https://my.cmu.edu/site/main/page.alert.
We realize that not everyone will subscribe to AlertNow. So we use other forms of communication. Our campus community can find information on our portal (my.cmu.edu), our home page (www.cmu.edu) and through official email communications. The home page helps us to communicate with your parents, other family members and our neighbors.
We have been and will continue to explore and experiment with other forms of communication, like text messages, and new technology, including “smart radios.” We are working with a local start-up company on this technology, as well as with student teams in the Human Computer Interaction Institute.
What You Can Do
First, I want to urge you to subscribe to AlertNow, (https://my.cmu.edu/site/main/page.alert). Although subscription is voluntary, timely and efficient communication is an essential element of a successful emergency response plan. Second, please give us your feedback and suggestions regarding your experience with the response system, especially if you see opportunities for improvement. You can write to me or Associate Vice President Michael Murphy via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you again for your commitment to a safe campus environment.
Jared L. Cohon
And that’s all folks.
“If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?” (Abraham Lincoln)