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Should MSU expand its emergency alert system? Students weigh in on transparency, safety concerns

April 3, 2024
Michigan State University Police Department on Thursday, April 6, 2023.
Michigan State University Police Department on Thursday, April 6, 2023.

Many students were left panicked and confused after a heavy police presence on campus in early March that was due to a hoax call regarding a bomb and weapons threat.

Although MSU Police and Public Safety had determined early on the call was not credible, it still chose to respond accordingly and investigate the areas targeted, the Main Library, Brody Neighborhood, Hannah Administration Building and Abbot Hall.

No alert was sent out through the emergency alert system, so when students saw the police investigating, many were alarmed at the police presence. 

Although MSU Police and Public Safety later took to its social media accounts to inform the public it had investigated a false weapons threat and there was no danger to the community, the post came after students had already taken note of heavy police presence across campus and many began speculation. 

Computer science sophomore Nirvan Baichoo is a resident in the Mason/Abbot dorms, one of the targeted locations. He said he was in the basement of Mason Hall when he took note of the fact there were police in his dorm. 

He said he found the situation unusual because he saw around four officers, making him believe the incident was more than just a run-in with a student.

Concerned as to what was going on, he looked at his phone and saw he had a text from his RA notifying his floor there were police in the building but the building was not in danger.

"I thought that was kind of weird, because you don't really tell people that they aren't in danger unless they are," he said. 

Baichoo finally learned about the false threat after talking to other people on his floor, but said he was shocked there was no communication from the university as to what was going on. 

"I was just sitting in my room and I'm like, 'Wow, okay, if there was an actual bomb or something I could have died,'" he said. 

All of this came after an incident the previous Monday where Baichoo had witnessed police rush into Snyder-Phillips hall with protective shields, also causing alarm among students. 

"I was just sitting in the lobby, and then a bunch of cops showed up. They all rushed in and one of them had a riot shield,” he said. 

Baichoo said around 10 minutes later the police came back down with a person who they then arrested outside. 

Baichoo said at the moment no one knew what was going on or why one of the officers had shields. He said he saw panicked students make their way out of the lobby towards the dining hall, and he saw students who were approaching the lobby turn around and walk away.

Once things had calmed down, he said a resident assistant came down and told the people in the lobby if anyone had questions about what had happened they could ask him. 

Baichoo received an email later that day regarding the incident but said — in the moment — he and the other students around him had no idea what had happened. 

"For me, personally, I was here last spring semester when the shooting happened, and seeing that many cops gave me an immediate kind of flashback to that," he said. "I understand [MSUPD] not telling everybody right at the beginning, because I get, like, if they tell everybody it might cause problems for the police. But, at the same time, that immediate feeling of like, 'Oh no, is this happening again?' is not a fun feeling."

Baichoo said he is conflicted when it comes to MSU expanding its alert system to allow for more transparency around heavy police presence.  

"I believe it's good if MSU expanded their safety system to let you know that there's police everywhere because I found out through my RA, and I found out like 10-20 minutes after the police showed up,” he said. “But, also, I understand that you don’t want to cause panic, so I also get them not being fully upfront."

Baichoo said after seeing the misinformation on social media that occurred during the shooting last year, he understands MSU not alerting students about the bomb threat until after the situation was taken care of in order to avoid mass panic but said the university should at least provide some assurance things are okay when police are going through dorms.

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Comparative Cultures and Politics sophomore Jovana Nagj is a residential assistant in the Mason/Abbot dorms. 

Although she wasn't in the Mason/Abbot area during the time the police were there, she said she was getting concerned messages from residents inquiring about why police were there, more specifically with a K-9 unit checking out the building. 

“It wasn't so much that the bomb hoax itself scared me because we didn't know what it was at the time. It was just mostly the unannounced police presence that concerned me," she said.

Nagj found out what had happened when someone sent her the social media post that was later made on the MSU Police and Public Safety Instagram account. 

Nagj said she wishes MSU would expand its communication with the community regarding incidents such as hoax threats to minimize panic, especially being transparent with people in leadership roles like herself, so she can answer questions from her residents.

"Just telling people about it might be nice or keeping people in leadership roles informed, because I was in the south (of campus), but I had residents messaging me, asking questions that I didn't really have an answer to," she said. 

Fisheries and Wildlife sophomore Paige Gingrich lives in Butterfield Hall in Brody Neighborhood, one of the other locations mentioned in the hoax threat. 

Although Ginrich didn't initially take note of the heavy police presence near her dorm, she said she can see how it would have caused alarm to other students and thinks the university should have immediately let people know what was going on.

"I feel like even if it would cause a moment of hysteria, it is too dangerous and traumatic to not let students be aware of these kinds of things," she said. 

MSUPD spokesperson Dana Whyte said as of right now the MSU alert system will only send out an alert when there's been a confirmed credible threat. She said in regards to the incident on March 7, since the threat was unconfirmed, nothing was sent out. 

Whyte said MSUPD did realize the panic among students caused by the threat, which is why it decided to make the social media post, so that people were aware of what was going on.

"We wanted to make sure that we were at least communicating about what was going on, so that is what went into the decision behind sharing it on social media," she said. 

Whyte said the department also works with the communications team for MSU Student Life and Engagement during incidents like this so they can get messages to students that are directly affected. 

When it comes to expanding the criteria for the alert system, Whyte said that is something that would need to be discussed within the department. 

As of right now, the department follows the university's Clery compliance when issuing alerts, meaning it must go through a specific matrix when determining if an alert is necessary to be sent out, making expanding the system to include information about false threats difficult. 

For more information about campus safety and emergency alerts visit MSUPD's website.

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