Of the many varied experiences I’ve had as a college professor, I have never been asked to look for explosives. Until today:
I arrived at work about 9:00 to an empty office suite. After a couple minutes, I heard someone walking through saying “Hello? Hello?” It was the emergency coordinator for our building, and she told me there had been a bomb threat called into the University this morning. “They didn’t say anything specific in the threat, but we’re supposed to keep an eye out.” She reminded me of Dwight Schrute.
I thanked her and checked my email. Sure enough, a “non-specific bomb threat” had been called in. Whatever that means.
Throughout the day, I got text messages and instant-message popups on computer screens in my classrooms. Now, I’m grateful we have these systems (which came in the wake of the Virgina Tech shootings in 2007), but today’s messages were not all that useful. Here’s a text message I got:
ALERT–As of 4:30 pm, there is no new information to report on the bomb threat.
A few minutes later, my office phone rang. It was my department chair. We talked about the bomb threat. She said, “anything unusual over there today?” (Most of my department is in a different building, and we’re a little island of eight offices.)
“All quiet on the western front,” I said. Most everyone else had gone home ahead of the snowstorm.
“Okay, well, they’re asking us to all look around in the public areas, you know, for anything unusual. Check your mailbox, for example.”
I said I would look around. So, that’s right, I became part of an ad-hoc bomb detection effort. I chuckled when I thought about what my union rep might say about it.
But I did my duty, and looked around. I did get a little nervous opening the cabinet where our mail boxes are. I’ve been reading a Vietnam War memoir, and the last little bit I read before going to bed was about half of a patrol being wiped out by a booby trap. I kept thinking mail bomb, mail bomb.
It turns out the only unusual things in the mailboxes was an old wristwatch in somebody’s mail box, and a box of Bostich framing nails on someone else’s shelf. Actually, that wasn’t unusual at all; I think both of those items have been sitting there for going on two years now. In fact, there’s so much weird stuff sitting around, I don’t know what would be suspicious or not.
Suffice it to say, I did not find anything explosive, and went back to the somewhat less exciting job of answering email before heading home.