The Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on America’s Egyptian and Libyan embassies, and the subsequent death of our Ambassador Christopher Stevens, have Americans questioning if they feel safer now than they did 4 years ago. As the horrendous news was being closely followed across the globe, across the country several campuses were evacuated due to bomb threats.

The evacuations are continuing, as the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge has been evacuated today because of a bomb threat.

Despite the fact all of the initial threats made last week proved to be hoaxes, students have expressed their unease at the delay in formal emergency notifications, especially in the era of new media when such material can be rapidly shared. As investigations into these incidents continue, a look at the situation shows that students feel a real need to enhance the speed and effectiveness of communication of such threats in the future. It is also demonstrates how heavily students rely on new media for getting and sharing critical safety and security information.

At the University of Texas, the threat was explicit about a tie to al-Qaeda: Shortly before 9 a.m. on the 14th, the university received a call from with a man with a Middle Eastern accent who said he was with al-Qaida and claimed he had placed bombs throughout campus set to explode in 90 minutes. Today’s report by Bobby Blanchard and David Maly in the UT publication, the Daily Texan, indicates that it was a hoax and updates the situation there:

After the weekend, concern about the timeliness and language of the University’s response to Friday’s hoax bomb threat remains while FBI investigations are still ongoing.

Erik Vasys, San Antonio FBI spokesperson and agent, said the FBI takes all threats seriously and the investigation into this incident is ongoing. He would not elaborate on the details of the investigation.

UT students expressed their concerns about the speed of formal notifications:

“I think 9:50 a.m. was way too late to decide they were going to evacuate,” said Daniel Cortte, freshman architecture major. “It seemed to me like they were more concerned with finding out if it was real.”

Cortte said he saw students in buildings at 10:05 a.m.

Social media options provide new venues for relaying information on safety and security threats quickly; however, some students note that they could not receive the alerts:

Theater junior Chace Gladden said he did not receive the original evacuation alert text message. He said he was in a classroom where he didn’t have cell phone reception. He said another student who ran in late told the class about the text message.

“Once we all got outside of the building we started receiving text message alerts, but I only received the follow ups,” Gladden said.

North Dakota State University was also evacuated on September 14, and officials indicate that the situation is being investigated to see if there is any connection to the threat report in Texas. Via a WDAY News 6 report out of Fargo, students report that serious problems arose during the evacuation processes:

“I’ve never been under that pressure before,” said Alexa Corrow, a freshman who was packing to go home to Hutchinson, Minn., when she got word of the evacuation.

One group of students in a car said they had spent 30 minutes in a traffic jam in the parking lot trying to get out, and were still stuck in traffic.

Many students were in class at the time of the evacuation.

“We just got to class and were about to take a quiz,” said sophomore Krista Kappes, from Ada, Minn. “At first we thought it was kind of funny, but now it seems serious,” she said, as she drove and saw several streets blocked off.

Some students left campus on foot when traffic prevented them from getting to their cars.

Freshman Logan Dahlgren and some friends stood across the street from campus, where his car was.

“(I’m) a little angry, but I understand why,” Dahlgren said.

Also on September 14, a graffiti message in a Valparaiso University science building bathroom triggered a high alert, but not a full evacuation, as officials on that campus indicated the discovery was not tied into either the UT or the NDSU events. The use of social media was key in issuing the alert status: Cell phones, emails and Tweets were sent at 6 a.m., and followed with an update later that morning.

Though the Valparaiso student newspaper, The Torch, has not posted an article on the incident, their Twitter account demonstrates clearly the importance of new media options in emergency response procedures. The Torch’s tweets report that dogs were used to sweep the major buildings, information on the exact wording of the graffiti was not released due to the continuing investigation, and that staff and students should remain on alert for suspicious activity.

Additionally, Hiram College in Ohio evacuated its campus after an email bomb threat late on Friday evening. Though nothing was found, students expressed concern that so many evacuations of American campuses had been necessary so close to the 9-11 anniversary:

“It is scary that it is this close to 9-11 and we’re not the only school that they’re saying had an attack or had a threat like this,” said Lamonthe.

“It’s just frustrating all around the board, whether it’s a big university or a small private college like this,” said Lucky as got in her S.U.V. to go back to Cleveland.

Though they were very young at the time, the events of September 11, 2001, still impact the lives of college and university students. With the situation on the Middle East and Central Asia becoming increasingly more unstable and violent, and with US and British warships headed to the Persian Gulf to potentially prepare for a mission involving Iran, it is apparent all teaching institutions need to take the unease of their staff and students into account and be proactive in solving the problems related to communication and evacuation before the next threat comes…and is real.