The University of British Columbia has been put on alert for the second time in a week because of a vague threat similar to one that forced the evacuation of a building last Wednesday.
RCMP said Tuesday they plan a stepped-up presence Wednesday but no other police measures after the latest threat was received. University officials initially said it would be business as usual on campus Wednesday, but late Tuesday decided to cancel classes in the Biological Sciences Building that was the target of last week’s threat.
“We are taking the advice of the RCMP to treat the non-specific nature of the threat with a higher level of community vigilance but to otherwise continue our normal activities,” the university said in a message on its website.
“However, because of the specific mention of the Biosciences Building in the threatening message received last week, and the traumatic experience of the occupants who endured a full lockdown of the building at that time, classes will be cancelled tomorrow (Wednesday) in the Biosciences Building.”
About 1,000 people use the building on a normal day, said university spokesman Randy Schmidt.
Like last week, police would not offer details about this threat, saying it could affect their investigation.
The difference this time was that the threat was not focused on one building. Last time, police cordoned off the biosciences building and evacuated everyone inside.
“In this case, the threat does not specify a location within the UBC Point Grey campus or the method of doing harm but does specify Wednesday as the day of the threat,” said RCMP spokeswoman Const. Annie Linteau.
Linteau would not say whether RCMP believe the threat originates with someone connected to the university but police were appealing to the person or persons involved to seek counselling through the university.
“The RCMP are asking this individual or individuals to come forward and seek the help that he or she needs,” Linteau said.
University public affairs director Scott Macrae said students, faculty and staff would be alerted via e-mail Tuesday about the threat and encouraged to keep an eye on the university’s web site for updates.
A text-messaging alert system is in the works by the end of this school term at the latest, he said, but it won’t be used this time because it hasn’t been tested.
“For now we will be using the web, e-mail, telephone,” he said.
Macrae could not say if students would be penalized for staying away from campus Wednesday.
“At this point RCMP are recommending that people treat tomorrow as business as usual,” he said. “Generally those matters (missing class) are dealt with between students and their professors.”
The threat is frustratingly vague, yet credible enough that the RCMP on Wednesday will send an unspecified number of Mounties onto the campus, a labyrinthian sprawl along Vancouver’s western shoreline with a school-day population of around 65,000.
“Investigators cannot ascertain with any precision the level of danger or whether any danger exists, but are continuing to vigorously pursue the investigation into both threats,” said Linteau.
The RCMP’s behavioural sciences unit will analyze the threats to try and get a profile of who sent them, she said.
“We have to explore every avenue of investigation, regardless if it is a cry for help, regardless if it is to gain public notoriety or regardless of whether or not someone is intending on carrying out the threat,” said Linteau.
“It is a criminal offence and we are determined on finding the person or persons responsible.”
Linteau would not say how many extra Mounties would be on campus Wednesday to augment the permanent detachment there, nor whether the heavily armed emergency response team or bomb squad would be nearby.
The university’s acting security director, David Halcovitch, was also vague on his plans, other than saying his staff would take its lead from the RCMP.
Macrae said the threats have been unsettling but the university has done its best to communicate with those affected.
“But you have to remember that this is a large community and there are more than 400 buildings on this campus,” he said.
A threat last Wednesday prompted a six-hour evacuation of the biosciences building near the centre of the main UBC campus.
The RCMP’s emergency response team, the explosives disposal unit and other RCMP resources cordoned off the building.
Those inside were told to lock the doors and stay in their rooms until the all-clear was sounded at 7:30 p.m.
Macrae said it was the first time the university had been forced to lock down a portion of the campus.
– with a report from CP