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Bomb scare highlights response issue

The first e-mail from the University about Tuesday’s bomb scare that closed a large swath of campus reached students more than an hour after Fulbright Hall and the surrounding area were evacuated, and an hour and a half after the suspicious package was first reported.

The incident prompted a sizable Metropolitan Police Department response, including a bomb squad and a flurry of emergency vehicles. Access to several buildings, the Foggy Bottom Metro station and surrounding streets was closed. But students interviewed said that, despite the enormous police response, they did not receive enough information in a timely manner about the incident.

At about 1:30 p.m., a suspicious package was reported outside Fulbright Hall and the Metropolitan Police Department was immediately notified, University spokeswoman Michelle Sherrard said. Hatchet editors were alerted at 2:08 p.m that Fulbright was being evacuated and nearby buildings and roads were being closed off. Once confirmed, updates were posted on The Hatchet’s Twitter account starting at 2:24 p.m.


1:30 p.m. Suspicious package reported by UPD. Metropolitan Police Department responds; Fulbright Hall and surrounding area evacuated.

43 minutes into incident
2:13 p.m. Initial post to Campus Advisories Web site: “Fulbright has been evacuated due to a suspicious package. Pedestrian and vehicular access is closed on 23rd St. between I St. and G St.” Note posted to GW’s Twitter account directing students to the Campus Advisories post.

2:21 p.m. Hatchet coverage begins

1 hour into incident

2:39 p.m. Alert D.C. message, citywide broadcast: street closures.

2:49 p.m. Alert D.C. message, citywide broadcast: Metro station closure.

1 hour, 38 minutes
3:08 p.m. First Infomail sent: “Due to a suspicious package at Fulbright Hall on 23rd and H there are road closures in the area and the Foggy Bottom metro is closed at this time.”

3:11 p.m. Alert D.C. message to GW community: Metro station closed.

3:13 p.m. Alert D.C. message to GW community: streets closed.

1 hour, 50 minutes
3:20 p.m. First Infomail leaves GW’s mail servers for GW community.

2 hours, 8 minutes
3:38 p.m. Scene cleared, according to Metropolitan Police Department.

3:51 p.m. Alert D.C. message, citywide broadcast: streets reopened.

3:53 p.m. Second Infomail sent: “Fulbright Hall, the Foggy Bottom Metro Station and surrounding roads have been reopened.”

3:54 p.m. Alert D.C. message to GW community: streets and Metro reopened; suspicious package cleared.

4:09 p.m. Second Infomail leaves GW’s mail servers for GW community.

The University posted a notice on its Campus Advisories Web site at 2:13 p.m., but the information wasn’t sent via e-mail to the GW community until an hour later. The e-mail only stated: “Due to a suspicious package at Fulbright Hall on 23rd and H there are road closures in the area and the Foggy Bottom metro is closed at this time.” The e-mail also had a link to the Campus Advisories Web site, and was sentat 3:08 p.m. But the message didn’t exit GW’s mail servers until 3:20 p.m., according to an inspection of message headers.

Just after the University e-mail was sent, an Alert D.C. message was sent at 3:11 p.m. saying that the Foggy Bottom Metro station was closed. Two minutes later, street closures were also reported.

Senior Hunter Patterson left his class in Funger Hall after hearing about the incident on Twitter. Patterson, an editor for The GW Patriot, reported the event from 23rd and G streets for an hour and a half, noting the University seemed to be late in notifying students.

“By the time the University sent out the first Infomail, [law enforcement officials] had already sent the bomb squad in,” he said.

Patterson said he was disappointed with the University’s response to the emergency.

“What if this was a real, actual emergency?” Patterson said. “I think the University really needs to do a lot to beef up response time.”

Patterson said the only two Infomails he received were about street closures and openings, with one coming 30 minutes after the scene was cleared. The Metropolitan Police Department told The Hatchet the scene was cleared at 3:38 p.m., while the second Infomail was sent at 3:53 p.m. and exited GW’s mail servers at 4:09 p.m.

Hatchet questions to the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management concerning the delay in the advisories were directed to Sherrard.

“An incident is fluid and changes depending on the information on the scene and first responders. The GW community is notified accordingly through several communications tools,” Sherrard said in an e-mail.

She explained that a fire alarm notified Fulbright Hall residents to evacuate the building, and then an advisory was posted on Campus Advisories, a Web site which she called GW’s principal communication tool.

“The advisory was posted on GW’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. Our partners with the District government sent out an advisory to all Alert DC subscribers’ cellular phones, e-mail accounts, and pagers. Metro also issued an alert to their riders regarding the station being temporary closed,” she said. The first update was posted to GW’s Twitter account the same time the Campus Advisories Web site was first updated, at 2:13 p.m.

Sherrard said that the first Infomail was sent as a follow up.

“Once the incident was cleared and the residence hall, streets, and metro were reopened, updates were posted on the Campus Advisories Web site, sent over Alert DC, and an InfoMail was sent,” Sherrard said.

Sherrard did not answer questions regarding the timing of the responses.

Sophomore Holly Friedman said she was confused when she first heard from GW about the situation near her residence hall, Fulbright Hall.

“The e-mails weren’t very detailed. They could have written more than two sentences,” she said.

Another Fulbright resident was also concerned about the lack of information.

“I had no idea what was going on. I wish we were more aware of what was going on. I was afraid we weren’t going to be allowed back in the building for a while,” Elizabeth Fienstone, a sophomore, said.

Sophomore Randall Grimm, though, said he thought the situation was handled well. He said he was hurried out of the area surrounding Fulbright by a police officer as soon as he stepped out of the building.

“The response was very quick,” he added. “I know it takes time to process the information they are getting and relay it to the students.”

Laura Lentin contributed to this report.

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