AUSTIN (KXAN) - Sitting shoulder-to-shoulder Friday afternoon, University of Texas officials, along with Austin's mayor and city manager, presented a united front during a press conference to update the community on the bomb threat situation that cleared the campus Friday morning.
"We are extremely confident that the campus is safe," UT President William Powers said.
However, just two hours earlier, officials, students and staff held their collective breath as the clock reached the time that the caller with a Middle Eastern accent said many bombs set around campus would explode. It came and went with no disaster.
Officials learned that a similar call was made to the campus of North Dakota State University.
Regardless, Powers said UT had to take its own threat seriously.
"We could not assure ourselves that the threat was not credible," he said. "We are confident now that our campus is safe -- we are working with city, state and federal officials. I can't go into details, but we are extremely confident that the campus is safe."
Officials were letting students and staff back into the buildings Friday afternoon, but campus events and classes will not begin until 5 p.m. Powers noted that the entire campus was not cleared, but only the buildings.
"Once students are uncertain whether afternoon classes will be held...once they disperse because of reports in the media that classes are canceled and they are spread all over town, we decided that classes and events will resume at 5 p.m.," Powers said.
The UT shuttle buses were allowed to return to normal schedule at about 12:30 p.m.
Mayor Lee Leffingwell talked of the cooperation and preparation of the city and law enforcement for situations such as what happened at UT. He also said the city's Emergency Operations Center was partially activated for a time.
"We've had similar situations in the last few years in our city," Leffingwell said, "and the state, federal, city and county work together.
"We have learned to do a better job of it," he continued. "We are pleased to learn that the threat has abated, and things can go back to normal."
UT Campus Police Chief Robert Dahlstrom explained that social media played a big part in communicating the threat and evacuation notice to students and others.
"We sent a text [message], hit the siren, 69,000 people got the message," he said. "We used Facebook, the flat-screen TVs, emails to get people out of the buildings."
Given that the caller gave sufficient warning as to bombs not going off for another 90 to 120 minutes when the call came in at 8:35 a.m., Powers said officials had sufficient time to evaluate the situation and decide what to do.
"If the threat had been [to happen] in five minutes," Powers said, "then we wouldn't have the time to evaluate. We were told well in advance [of the times the bombs would blow.]
Now efforts turn to learning information about the caller, and Powers indicated they know a lot about that person. He did not say officially if the caller was a man or a woman, however, indications are that the caller is a male.
"I can't go into all details," Powers said. "We are working closely with the city, state and federal authorities. We know a great amount of details [about the caller]. We know the campus is safe."
When asked if the caller is in custody, Powers said, "He is not in custody that I know of."
UT Board of Regents issued a statement Friday afternoon, reiterating the staff's concern for students' safety.
"Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our students and the people who go to work every day to serve them. We understand that events like this are frightening for parents, family and friends of students and university personnel and we want to express our thanks to President Powers and law enforcement for their quick reaction and commitment to the UT Austin community," read the statement.
UT Police Chief Robert Dahlstrom
Later Friday afternoon, Dahlstrom gave a few more details about the morning's emergency situation and decisions made.
"At 75 minutes [after the bomb-threat call], what we had was so vague there was nothing to even begin on at 75 minutes," Dahlstrom said. "It was 15, 20, 25 before we even had the [specific] details of the call."
Asked about what the criteria was in choosing to evacuate campus buildings, Dahlstrom said, "There's nothing particular in this I'm going to cite. What we have to look at is threat to campus and threat to people. We have to make our best judgment off of that."
Dahlstrom said it turned out to be a hoax, but the caller, once caught will likely serve time behind bars.
"If you are caught with this, you're going to prison," he said. "It's not a game. It's not something you use to get out of something. It is an illegal act and prople will be prosecuted and put in prison."
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