On September 10, 2021, City of Fredericton Police tweeted, “Police are on scene at UNB investigating a file. Please avoid the area. We will provide updates when it is appropriate.” What ensued was chaos.
The University of New Brunswick is no stranger to bomb threats. Within recent memory alone, there have been at least three, with this most recent incident affecting the Fredericton and Saint John campuses, as well as the Moncton site. However, when perusing the Staying Safe portion of the UNB Fredericton Security webpage, all you can find on bomb threats is what to do if you receive one via telephone.
Administration’s handling of this threat was dangerous. Firstly, the warning notifications were sent via email, text, and the new UNBsafe app. What are students not supposed to be doing while they’re in classes? Using their phones. So ostensibly, there could have been (and were) classes going on that were completely oblivious to the bomb threat until the evacuation of campus was already underway. Students and professors are not using or checking their mobile devices while they are learning or teaching. Secondly, this is a major accessibility issue. Not all students have devices, and not everyone has a data plan.
When campus was being evacuated, it took over a half hour to get from the Book Store to College Hill because of traffic. That is dangerous. This was a bomb threat. No one knew what size that bomb could have been, or where it could have been, or if there could have been more than one bomb. So why were people being allowed to take their cars? When a plane is crashing, are people allowed to take their luggage? No.
The university has a duty, a special duty, to protect campus and to have plans in place to keep students safe, not only as a space of education, but also as the home it provides for students in its residences. But it didn’t feel like there was a plan in place. It felt like there was no plan. It felt like the school was scrambling, or worse, not taking this threat to our personal safety seriously.
Worse than having no plan, administration reverted to their “Active Threat” plan, and told students who lived in residence to shelter in place: not to leave campus, but to go back inside their residences. That’s like telling someone to walk back into a burning building.
Stop for a minute and actually think about that for me. Imagine this bomb had been real and it had gone off on our campus – which hundreds of students call home – which I called home for two years. Add that to the lines of cars, and the classes of people who were just figuring out something was wrong.
How many people would have died?
The University of New Brunswick’s response on September 10, 2021, was not only subpar, it put the lives of students, faculty, and staff at risk. Until the police finished their investigation of campus, that bomb was real, and it should have been treated that way. There was absolutely no excuse for not having a proper campus evacuation plan in place, a plan that evacuated everyone quickly and safely. A bomb threat should be treated like a fire – leave your things, evacuate. Every piece of bomb threat safety information says to evacuate people to a safe distance. No one knew where that bomb could have been on campus, and students felt threatened.