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04 December 2015

Statement from John J. "SKI" Sygielski, Ed.D., President, HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College: Recent Bomb Threat

Introduction
 
At HACC, Central Pennsylvania’s Community College, this has been a difficult week for our students, employees, board members, alumni and many others who support us. The bomb threat that occurred on Dec. 2, 2015, at our Harrisburg Campus was the result of the selfishness and unlawfulness of an individual who did not consider the implications of his or her actions when he or she made the threat. While bomb threats are quite common, they are unacceptable, disconcerting and disruptive.
 
Despite this unfortunate situation, members of the HACC family rallied together to ensure there was no loss of life or injuries. Our efforts, though not perfect, were successful. For that, we are very grateful.
 
At HACC, we take all safety-related threats seriously. Period. Our students, employees and visitors to our campuses trust us, and we will do everything within our power to maintain that trust. That includes keeping them safe at all costs.
 
The bomb threat revealed to us that we have some weaknesses in our safety procedures. We have spent the last two days reviewing and discussing those procedures. Throughout this process, we have communicated openly and frequently with HACC students, employees, other supporters and media outlets. Today will be no different.
 
Yesterday, the College’s leadership met to discuss what went well during this week’s incident, what needs to be improved and what our next steps will be. Our discussion was candid, open, honest and productive. Several reoccurring themes emerged from (1) this meeting; (2) conversations with our students, employees, board members and other supporters; and (3) feedback from these same stakeholders.
 
Following is a summary of the topics discussed this week (including yesterday’s leadership team meeting):  
 
 
Emergency Alert System
 
HACC uses an emergency alert system (e2Campus) to communicate about crises, inclement weather and other similar situations. The emergency alert system delivers text messages and emails to individuals who have signed up for the free service.
 
Most people have commended the College on the use of the emergency alert system. However, several people mentioned not receiving the emergency alerts at all or receiving the alerts hours after they were originally sent.
 
The first alert was sent on Dec. 2 at 11:09 a.m. to individuals who signed up to receive Harrisburg Campus alerts only. An update was provided to the same group at 12:31 p.m. Updates about the reopening of the Harrisburg Campus were distributed at 4:31 p.m. and 4:32 p.m. to anyone who signed up to receive an e2Campus alert, regardless of campus.
 
The evening of Dec. 2, we were notified that a cell phone provider was experiencing intermittent outages, causing delays of text messages. The cell provider eventually resolved the issue. Therefore, the challenges individuals may have experienced were not caused by HACC or our campus alert system.
 
Additionally, some mobile service providers do not participate in the emergency alert system or any text alert services.
 
Here are important tips regarding HACC’s emergency alert system:
 
  • Sign up to receive the emergency alerts for all campuses, regardless of which campus you most frequently attend, work at or visit
  • Remain vigilant in renewing your emergency alert subscription when notifications are sent to you
 
The College will continue to use its emergency alert system to provide updates. In addition, we have identified other ways to use the emergency alert system to help improve communications, including traffic evacuation routes and pick-up locations for individuals.
 
Please know that the College strives to notify students, employees and other stakeholders effectively and efficiently to ensure their safety.
 
 
Evacuation of Campus
 
Understandably, one of the main concerns raised by our students and employees about the evacuation was the traffic congestion that delayed them from driving off of the Harrisburg Campus. (Evacuation from our Midtown 1 and Midtown 2 centers – which are located a little more than two miles from the Harrisburg Campus – was smooth).
 
First, kudos to students and employees for evacuating the buildings within 15 minutes! The process went smoothly, thanks to the cooperation of everyone.
 
As anyone leaving the campus knows, the evacuation process was hampered by limited exit lanes and traffic that continued to flow into the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex and Expo Center and businesses along Industrial Road. Although HACC controls the roads on the campus, the College has no control over the traffic off campus.
 
Fortunately, we had unprecedented assistance from area law enforcement agencies with traffic control and other activities. Without their cooperation and support, the traffic congestion would have been far worse.
 
Since the bomb threat, HACC’s director of public safety and security and his team have enhanced the traffic management evacuation plan to address these issues. Because the enhanced traffic management evacuation plan will require authorization and cooperation from other agencies, we are not able to release the details at this time. However, at the appropriate time, this information will be shared with HACC students, employees and board members.
 
With our collaboration with these agencies, it is our goal to ensure that future evacuations of campus parking lots will proceed at a steady pace.
 
 
Communications
 
We strive to keep the HACC family as fully informed as possible. It is a priority. We communicate emergency information our students, employees, board members and alumni in many ways, and this situation was no different.
 
The College used the following communication channels to alert individuals of the threat and to continually provide updates:
   
We have identified additional ways to communicate to our employees and students, including automatic phone calls. These communication methods will be implemented moving forward.
 
 
Preparation, Training and Expertise
 
Our Public Safety and Security Department’s highest priority is to ensure the safety of those on HACC’s campuses and to mitigate any threat.
 
Our highly-trained safety and security officers evaluate every situation before they respond to an emergency. Understanding that each situation is different, the officers must consider the type of incident, immediate impact on life and safety, and the availability and safety of evacuation routes from a campus. 
 
In preparation of these situations, our Public Safety and Security Department:
 
  • Conducts shelter-in-place drills at each campus at least once each semester
  • Plans, communicates and works with local and federal law enforcement agencies
  • Partners with area businesses
  • Evaluates, on a regular basis, our response plan for all types of emergency situations, including bomb threats
  • Participates in mandated training, including:
    • Active Threat Training
    • Adult and Juvenile Automated External Defibrillator (AED) Certifications
    • Basic Oleoresin Capsicum (OC) Pepper Spray Certification
    • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) Certification
    • Defensive Tactics
    • Emergency Management
    • Expandable Baton Basic Certification
    • Firearms
    • First Aid Certification
    • Management of Aggressive Behavior
    • Oleoresin Capsicum Aerosol Training (OCAT)
    • Pennsylvania Lethal Weapons Act (Act 235) Certification
 
 
Kudos
 
HACC extends our sincere gratitude to the law enforcement agencies that assisted in the evacuation process:
 
  • Harrisburg Bureau of Fire
  • Harrisburg Bureau of Police
  • Pennsylvania Capitol Police
  • Susquehanna Township Police
 
All of these professionals responded promptly.
 
Their critical assistance to HACC’s Public Safety and Security Department and helpful guidance to our students, employees and visitors are very much appreciated. These agencies played a vital role in the evacuation process, and we are proud that they are a part of our community.
 
Special thanks to the students, employees and visitors who cooperated on the day of the bomb threat. We are also thankful for the many individuals – near and far – who have called, emailed and texted to demonstrate their support, offer words of encouragement and suggest solutions.
 
 
Suspect
 
HACC is working with the appropriate law enforcement agencies to identify the caller of the bomb threat. Once the person is identified, we will prosecute him or her to the fullest extent of the law.
 
We have zero tolerance for illegal, unethical and life-threatening activities at HACC. Therefore, anyone who threatens the safety of individuals will be handled appropriately. We encourage anyone with knowledge about the caller of the bomb threat to contact the Harrisburg Bureau of Police immediately. A reward may be given for information leading to the prosecution of the caller.


Next Steps
 
Security is a top priority, so we have several next steps to implement, including:
 
  • Incorporate improvements discussed and recommended by the College leadership team, students, employees and others
  • Meet with the appropriate agencies to discuss the enhanced traffic management evacuation plan
  • Review and improve our communications by using additional tools to ensure individuals receive important information in a timely manner
 
 
Your Feedback
 
We encourage open communication and will continue to communicate any updates with our students, employees and stakeholders. Please submit your suggestions, comments and questions via an online form.
 
 
Conclusion
 
Throughout our country and world, we are faced with crises and acts of violence that we never thought we would encounter in our lifetimes. That is our reality. As grim as it sounds, it is not possible to prevent crises from occurring.
 
While I cannot promise you that crises will not occur at HACC – no leader in the world can make such promises – I CAN promise you that the safety and security of HACC’s students, employees and visitors will ALWAYS be a top priority. That commitment is echoed by HACC’s leadership team and Public Safety and Security Department.
 
Because some of the information communicated via the media and social media has been inaccurate, I encourage you to contact the College directly for the facts. We have nothing to hide, and we all want the same things – safety and security.
 
Thank you and happy holidays.
 
 

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