SMC evaluates emergency response

As hundreds of students filed out of the quad, police directed them away from the blast area, the radius in which a bomb could explode.

Santa Monica College police responded to last Tuesday’s bomb threat in an hour and 20 minutes, said Albert Vasquez, dean of campus security and chief of police for the Santa Monica College Police Department.

The threat started in the women's restroom on the first floor of the library, where two females found a note that indicated a bomb would detonate in an hour.

"I would say that that was pretty quick, but we knew that we had a cushion of time," Vasquez said.

As soon as the SMCPD was aware of the threat, they began to clear out the quad, which contained more than a thousand people for the College Fair.

Total evacuation was completed within 12 to 15 minutes, Vasquez said.

SMCPD also contacted the Santa Monica Police Department to see if their bomb-sniffing K9 was on duty. The Fire Department was requested to stand by.

"We're dependent on larger departments to provide [a bomb squad]," said SMCPD Sgt. Jere Romano, who directed foot traffic away from the quad along with his cadets.

The dogs brought in by SMPD sniffed through trash cans and black sandbags used to hold down some of the tarps during the College Fair.

"Our little, small department got big help," Romano said.

The department was impressed with the help they received from cadets, some of whom showed up while off duty to help out. 

Last Tuesday's bomb scare came after a long thread of threats all over Los Angeles County and beyond, from California State University, Los Angeles, to City Hall, to a Del Taco in Fullerton.

Vasquez said that suspicious packages involving a bomb-sniffing dog are called in one to two times a year.

"This [bomb threat] was a little more specific, and because of the situation in Boston, we had already been kind of talking about what our response was going to be; we had already been talking to the city," said Vasquez. 

While the SMCPD was largely commended for their fast work clearing students out of the quad, Vasquez expressed some concerns about the way information reached students.

“Many of the emergency calls went to home phones, as opposed to cell phones,” Vasquez said about the mass notification system, Blackboard Connect, which was used to alert students of the evacuation.

“Certainly that's an issue we’re going to be looking at," he said.

The police department is also currently working on a “short emergency procedures” sheet that will replace the flip charts in classrooms on campus. There will be a section for “suspicious objects and persons.”

Santa Monica Police Department declined comment on SMCPD's response.

Vasquez recommended that students keep their belongings to themselves and not leave personal items alone. Oftentimes, suspicious packages or bags end up being a student’s project, he said.

A few years ago, the library was evacuated when someone spotted a suitcase chained to a desk. The suitcase turned out to be harmless.

“You never anticipate it happening, and certainly you hope that it doesn't happen, but you have to plan for the worst, hope for the best," Vasquez said.