NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The poorly-worded announcement of a police training exercise was cause for brief but severe alarm on the part of the campus community thanks to a frightening text message sent en masse by the university.
“Armed suspect in area of alexander library,” the strange message read. “Seek a safe space and shield/secure your location TEST TEST.”
It wasn’t until almost ten minutes later that the university corrected the record, utilizing two follow-up messages in an attempt to clear up the confusion.
Students and others in the community were not amused, while cops from Rutgers, New Brunswick, and other law enforcement agencies, stood around chatting inside the caution tape surrounding Alexander Library.
Near the faux crime scene, the police had erected a digital message board that read, “POLICE TRAINING 06/16/16.”
The event occurred just a block over from another event that drew lots of law enforcement, a ceremony hosted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving inside the Brower Commons dining hall.
The sheer police presence, which included more than a dozen illegally-parked, out-of-town cop cars, combined with the poorly-worded mass text to cause serious and genuine concern on the part of students, parents and staff.
The backlash was clear and predictable, especially given the blunder came just four days after an attack in a crowded Florida nightclub, one that went down as the deadliest mass shooting in recent American history.
“They tested us by telling us there it’s an armed shooter???” posted one young man. Another said the message “nearly gave [her] a heart attack.”
New Brunswick Today learned of the severe error thanks to readers who shared the text messages with us.
“End training scenario…End training scenario alexander library,” read the second message.
Shortly thereafter, another circuitous, unapologetic explanation arrived.
“Earlier message was sent during a planned exercise of the RU’s emergency management system there is no threat to the Campus,” read the run-on sentence issued as the third campuswide text sent in the span of 14 minutes.
Under fire from a number of critics, the Rutgers University Police Department (RUPD) did not offer an apology, but did promise to make “necessary changes” to its “protocols” for future drills.
Before noon, the university had sent an email to some people attempting to explain themselves:
Earlier today an Emergency Notification message was sent by text message to members of the Rutgers University – New Brunswick Community. This message was part of a planned Emergency Management Exercise and there is no threat to the Rutgers University – New Brunswick. We recognize that the wording of the initial message caused some concern and alarm amongst recipients; however the message was sent only to test the University’s Emergency Notification System (ENS). University Public Safety will be making necessary changes to protocols for future training exercises.
It’s just the latest debacle involving the local emergency management bureaucracy during the controversial tenure of Rutgers University President Robert Barchi.
In 2013, this newspaper filed an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request that ultimately forced Rutgers to release a 275-page report about the response to–and aftermath of–Hurricane Sandy, when problems at the city’s water treatment plant led to a weeklong closure of the school’s New Brunswick campuses.
The document detailed the poor communication between Rutgers University’s leadership and New Brunswick’s city government, as evidenced by contradictory orders given about whether or not driving was allowed.
After a wild Halloween night in 2014, we exposed how the city’s first responders and hospitals were stretched thin by the massive night of alcohol-induced mayhem and violence in New Brunswick.
Those article showed that Rutgers and Middlesex County’s Office of Emergency Management provided conflicting explanations of the chaos, further evidence of a lack of needed cooperation.
New Brunswick Today had previously revealed that City Hall’s supposed “Emergency Management Council” had not been holding the meetings it was advertising, and some of its alleged members it did not seem to know that it existed.
Though the Council now supposedly holds its meetings behind closed doors–rather than in public–the body does not have any representatives for Rutgers, St. Peter’s University Hospital, the city’s public schools, or the press.
Students, parents, and other concerned residents can subscribe to Rutgers’ Emergency Notification System at the website: http://ens.rutgers.edu/.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.