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“We Have To Evacuate Campus”

October 23, 2012

When I came back to my office, the door was closed.  It was the middle of the day, and that door is never closed.  Unless the whole office is off doing something.  Or there’s an emergency.

The fire alarm wasn’t going off or anything and I hadn’t seen any of my coworkers standing around outside as though the building had been evacuated, so I knew it wasn’t likely that there was any immediate danger.  Just in case, I went inside and made a quick trip around the office.  Sure enough, everyone was gone.  Years of working in this department have trained me that there are plenty of dangers which aren’t immediately apparent, so I went back outside before pulling out my phone.  I figured there was a gas leak or some other danger which had caused the evacuation of this part of campus.  As I was pulling up my the browser on my phone to check my e-mail, I saw my friend Cate hurrying across the parking lot behind our building.  That’s when I knew something was seriously wrong.

~~

Cate and I go walking on nice days.  It’s a good excuse for both of us to get out of the office for our lunch break and get some exercise.  Cate is Not From Around Here, so it’s fun to show her all of the amazing things I take for granted and see her face light up.  It makes me see everything I love about this town and this university with fresh eyes and I appreciate it all the more for it.   On that day, I took her around to see some of the preparations being made for the football game that weekend.  Home football games are quite a big deal around here, and tailgating is a serious business.  Quite literally.  There are whole businesses in this town solely devoted to hosting major events in a tailgating theme.  We walked by the neat rows of pavilions being set up with fancy camp chairs and televisions sets, stopped at the memorial where past mascots are buried, and I took her through the park where the less fancy tailgating would go on.  People were already lined up down the block, patiently waiting for their turn to stake out a patch of ground and set up their temporary living room.

On the other side of the park, we cut across the street to avoid yet another line of tailgaters in waiting.  From there, we decided it was probably time to head back to our respective buildings.  We had already been walking for about 45 minutes at that point, and while it wasn’t a hit day, it was hot enough.  On our way back, we saw an unusually large group of students heading the opposite direction.  I assumed that they were a tour group, since it was the day before a game day, and some groups like to bring potential students in on days when the school spirit is especially high.  Apparently, I am getting old enough that “classroom full of college students” looks nearly identical to “high school tour group.”

Cate and I went our separate ways.  The doors to my building were not locked.  The basement was deserted, but that is not unusual.  It wasn’t until I came upstairs and saw that closed door that I had my first inkling that something might be wrong.  Hours later, I lamented not giving in to the impulse to duck into my office and grab my purse.  As it was, I had exactly three items in my pockets.  The keys to my office, a headset, and my cell phone.  Cate didn’t even have that.

After spotting Cate, I hurried around to the front of my building to intercept her.  “There’s been a bomb threat,” she said, slightly out of breath.  “We have to evacuate campus.”

We started walking again.  Although the campus has wireless access points in all of the buildings, they don’t do very well when you are on the move.  Without a reliable internet connection, my phone would only make phone calls.  In previous emergency situations, I have always been the reliable source for updates to the outside world.  Twitter and Facebook made it easy for me to spread the word and keep my friends and family informed.  Now, I was just another fleeing refugee.  I thought Moose was on an airplane and out of contact.  So we phoned a friend and asked him to update Facebook.  We were safe.  We were together.  And while we weren’t quite sure yet where we were going to end up, we were at least on the move.

There was a large group of people gathered at one of the large pavilions which had been set up on campus.  I wanted to be properly off campus, just in case.  So we crossed to the Jewish student center just across the street.  There, we found a place to sit in the shade and waited.  Moose called.  He hadn’t actually been in the air yet, and had heard about the bomb threat through a friend’s Facebook post.  He felt that Cate and I should move further away from campus.  I didn’t feel we were in a large enough crowd to make a good target, but I couldn’t argue with his logic.  A student asked Cate if she had a phone she could borrow, so I loaned her mine.  Unfortunately, the calls simply weren’t going through.  I tried calling a few other people with no luck.  After a bit, Cate and I decided that we were probably not going to be allowed back on campus any time soon.  Our best bet, for the time being, was to try to walk home.

It was only about 3 miles to Cate’s place, and mine is just a mile further down the road.  On any other day, we probably could have made the walk easily.  We were both wearing ballet flats, which we were both quite used to long walks in, so that was to our advantage.  But we had already been walking for almost an hour at that point, neither of us had eaten lunch, and we had no water.  I figured we could probably make it to a location about halfway home before we would need to stop and get water.  I tried to call a friend and managed to get through long enough to leave her a message.  I figured of all my kids, she was the one most likely to be able to coordinate a rescue.

After about 10 minutes of walking, my friend called back.  My phone, naturally, decided to pick that exact moment to freeze up.  I cursed at it, loudly enough that the people walking in front of us turned around to look at me.  Which mostly means that they got a really good look at Cate and I as I continued to curse the idiocy of Smart Phones.  Eventually I managed to make it work and called my friend back.  I told her where we planned to stop, and she said she would find someone to send our way.  In the middle of this conversation, Cate’s boyfriend called.  The moment he said my name, I passed the phone over like it was nuclear.  The man sounded like we had been off the grid for 4 days instead of 40 minutes.  Given how adorably shmoopy the two of them are, I suppose I can forgive him a little panic.  They talked for a few minutes, and then she handed the phone back to me.  I called my friend back and she informed me that she had arranged a ride to take us home.  Cate then spotted one of her coworkers.  She was also walking home, though in the opposite direction from where we were heading.  She did tell us that several of Cate’s coworkers were at one of the restaurants across from campus, which gave us a good place to stop.

By this point, everything that is wrong with my body was beginning to take its toll.  It was over an hour since we had first left campus, two hours since I had first set out on my walk with Cate.  The background noise of every day pain was dialed up to the level it was at prior to switching my medications a few months ago.  Still bearable, but I was grateful for the promised rescue.  If we’d had to walk all the way back to my home, I probably would have been in pretty bad shape by the end.  When we made it to the restaurant, Cate borrowed some money from her coworkers to get us some tacos.  I was desperately hungry by that point, and grateful for the food.

By the time our rescuer arrived, we had finished lunch and had some water.  The experience pretty much ends there (save for a story which Cate may or may not give me permission to post later).  We wound up back at my place and both of us laid down for some much needed rest.  The campus reopened a few hours later, and we were able to get our belongings and my car.  There’s been no word yet on why the bomb threat was called in, though the general speculation seems to be “Someone didn’t study for his midterms.”

I learned quite a lot from this experience.  Namely that it was fully possible for me to hike several miles in ballet flats, should the situation call for it.  Also, that I should probably get into better shape.  If there is ever a bigger emergency, I will probably need to walk a bit longer than a couple of miles.  Finally, I am grateful for the presence of Cate through this whole thing.  She helped keep me going, sometimes just by being the relentlessly positive presence that I had to keep up with.  Without her, I probably would have been amoung the many people who simply waited out the evacuation for four hours.  We may not have accomplished much in the broad scheme of things, but we got ourselves someplace with food and water, which is more than many people had.

I am also grateful to have had this experience.  It sucked, and there is someone out there who made a lot of people very miserable for no discernible reason.  But the emergency response of my university is remarkably good, and it makes me realize that I am stronger than I am willing to give myself credit for.  If there is ever a true emergency, I know for a fact that I will at least get so far.  Which is sometimes more than enough.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Thais permalink
    October 23, 2012 9:45 am

    There have been several similar bomb threats called in at different universities around the country in recent weeks. UT had one a few weeks ago, but I was thankfully not on campus that day. I am glad that it turned out to be a hoax each time, but it makes me suspicious that something bigger is going on.

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