Monday afternoon around 4 p.m., many students received jarring alerts in the form of text messages sent from USF’s Department of Public Safety to their personal cell phones. The messages informed students that the campus was in a state of emergency and they should evacuate immediately. Students then received a follow-up phone call relaying a similar message.
Sophomore hospitality major Stephen Beemsterboer was in a reception for his major when, he said, “All of a sudden, everyone started taking out their phones.” When they saw the message, he said, “People were freaking out.”
Public Safety Lieutenant Dean Coit told the Foghorn, “The message was not supposed to be sent out.” Public safety was conducting a trial of the new system for training purposes. The message was a blank template, and the fields about the type of emergency were not filled out.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Coit said, “We are not 100% sure why the message was sent. But we can say it was just a training error.”
Though alarmed by the message, most students did not actually evacuate the campus. Many figured out the message was not real. Coit said he believes in a real emergency, students would be able to tell because it would be more specific. Because the fields in the template were not filled out, he said, “The message was so vague, so it didn’t look real.” In a real emergency, Coit said, “There will be more information about what type of emergency it is and what action students should take.”
Beemsterboer said the students he was with did not choose to evacuate immediately. Instead, someone verified if it was a true emergency, and found it was not. Still, he said, “It was a rather ominous message. Definitely a cause for alarm.”*