Colleges and universities across the country are reacting to last week’s announcement by FBI Director Robert Mueller stating that institutes of higher education could become targets for future terrorist attacks.
Colleges and universities – along with other “soft targets” that hold many people in a relatively small space, including shopping malls, supermarkets, apartment buildings, churches and recreation and entertainment venues – could be easy targets for attacks because they are not well-defended, Mueller said.
“Multiple small-scale attacks against soft targets … would be easier to execute and would minimize the need to communicate with the central leadership, lowering the risks of detection,” Mueller told the Select Intelligence Committee last week.
As a result of the statement, many colleges and universities have issued responses urging students to keep the threat in mind while giving other facets of life priority.
At the University, Department of Public Safety Director Bill Bess released a written statement yesterday urging students to be especially observant of suspicious activities, while also stating that there has been no threat made pertaining to Southeast Michigan.
DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said the University is working to adapt to terrorist threats. She also urged students to focus on their daily business.
“Depending on the threat, we have a variety of security plans, and others are being developed as needed,” Brown said. “There is no indication that there is any reason for alarm. University officials are urging the community to go about their business in a vigilant manner.”
Several students said they are taking the University’s advice, adding that their focus is on classes and spring break and not the possibility of another terrorist attack.
“We have to be a little more cautious and aware that the world is not like it was, but it’s not something I want to be scared of – it’s just something I want to be aware of,” LSA senior Niya Nanavati said.
But Nanavati added that she felt most people are more concerned about the possibilities of an attack due to extensive media coverage.
“It’s good that they want to make people aware, but I’m sure it’s also making people scared because it’s constantly on television,” she said. “You watch the TV, and it’s just 24-7. … It’s good to be cautious, but we are just creating more fear.”
“I have no urge to go to the store and buy duct tape,” Nanavati added, referring to the government’s advice to stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting in case of a biological or chemical attack.
Students at other colleges are reacting similarly.
At American University in Washington, where school officials released a similar statement, junior Eric Rittinger said there is “a healthy balance between paranoia and ignorance.”
“I’m not ignoring the situation. … I think people are not letting the warnings interfere with their lives,” Rittinger said, adding that he is relieved the government continues to inform the American public about possible threats. “I think it is reassuring to some that the government is telling us something. But I don’t think the practicality of it comes into play.”
AU sophomore Ben Sears said he does not believe the threats to be too imminent.
“Personally, I’m not too worried about it,” Sears said. “I think there are way better targets than AU and other colleges.”
At Harvard University, a severe snowstorm took precedent yesterday over the possibility of terrorist attacks, though officials did issue a response through the school’s website.
According to the school’s statement, “for the past year and a half, (Harvard) has been actively addressing potential operational and security concerns prompted by the attacks of September 11. The Harvard University Police Department is trained and equipped to keep the Harvard community as safe as possible. (Harvard) maintains emergency management teams ready to respond to contingencies that might arise.”
Princeton University and the University of Pennsylvania also released similar statements.
The University of Texas at Austin temporarily canceled campus tours and changed the university’s parking procedures, directing vehicles without university parking permits to off-campus parking garages and requiring drivers’ licenses from people operating vendor vehicles before allowing them in university lots.