Training initiative helped college deal with phone threats

Published Mar 6, 2018 at 1:41pm

"This is a new reality we need to deal with in our world."

Commending students, faculty, campus security and even parents for their patience and compassion, with a safe and successful conclusion to Monday's phone threats, Utica College President Laura Casamento thanked law enforcement and the campus community for their support in a time of crisis.

It was "a traumatic event all the way around," she said.

Back in January, the college hosted a large emergency management tactical training initiative, coordinated by a team of administrators, faculty and staff, which gave local law enforcement an opportunity to hone their skills in case a real threat ever occurred on campus. On Monday, the threat became very real.

Utica Police Chief Mark Williams said the drill conducted earlier this year, "went a long way" in aiding law enforcement's response and how the campus handled the incident.

Because it was a phone threat, Williams said law enforcement presumed it was not credible, but as far as a police response, they treated it as such, with more than 100 officers, including an armed SWAT team, responding.

Williams said "several phone calls" with the "same person" making the calls "gave a specific place at Utica College." The chief would not say which department or office received the threats, adding that in danger of tipping off the suspect, he did not want to give details about the on-going investigation.

False threats, "are not just an issue here, they're happening all over the country," the chief said, adding that such responses put a lot of strain on departments' resources. He sent the message that the person responsible would "be prosecuted at the fullest extent of the law, and we hope to make an example of this person."

Mayor Robert Palmieri added that there is no way to "budget" or plan for such a crisis, but as a city, officials need to do whatever it takes to protect its citizens.

"This is not dollars and cents we're talking about here, these are lives," he said.

Cosamento said emotionally, students and faculty will be supported, with counseling to be available.

"I've hugged a few students over the last few hours," the president said. "I am proud how they are holding up." She said faculty, staff and students have shown "genuine care" and support for one another.

After meeting with law enforcement and finding that the threat was not credible, Cosamento said the college decided to resume classes today, although professors were asked to give leniency to students.

In the meantime, the president said the college will review its Emergency Operation Plan to see what went right on Monday, or what procedures could have been handled more efficiently. The college will then make decisions "on how we can do things better and move forward," she said.

Those improvements may mean addressing students about the use of social media. Law enforcement had stated Monday that there were some false messages spreading about shots fired and students injured on campus.

But Cosamento said while faculty and staff can advise students on the use of social media, it's really an entity that's out of their control.

"It's hard to control social media use, but there's things that can spread quickly and take on a life of their own," she said. "We can talk to them about the best practices for using social media, but students will still do what they do."