Bomb scare rattles Smart Museum

By Connie Hsiung

University and Chicago police evacuated the Smart Museum Wednesday afternoon after the museum received an anonymous telephoned bomb threat. At 1:06 p.m., the anonymous caller informed a desk attendant that a bomb had been placed somewhere inside the building. “Acting in accordance with our safety procedures, the University of Chicago Police were contacted, and the building was evacuated until the University Police, the University’s Safety Office, and the City of Chicago Police Department determined it was safe to return about one hour later,” C.J. Lind, the museum’s public relations and marketing manager, wrote in an e-mail statement. Smart Museum desk attendant and student Mieka Van Der Ploeg took the call, but museum staff members, including Assistant Facilities and Security Supervisor Michael Pollard, were unauthorized to comment. Students and staff were evacuated through the museum compound’s west entrance, and officers pushed the crowd as far back as the sidewalk bordering Ellis Avenue. Few initially knew the reason for the evacuation, but once the cause was aired, most felt it must have been a prank. “Obviously, the Smart Museum is the center of the universe, so, of course, if any sort of revolutionary act were to happen on this campus, it’d be here,” one student joked. Neither the museum nor the police took any chances. The threat comes at a time when, in light of the shootings at Virginia Tech last year, colleges and universities across the country are devoting greater resources to campus security. In late August, several college campuses, including Princeton, MIT, and Cornell, received anonymous e-mails informing officials that bombs had been placed in campus buildings. Investigators soon concluded that the threats at 13 universities were hoaxes. They also noted that it was strange that the threats came at the beginning of the year. Bomb threats on college campuses are usually received at the end of the academic year. Thursday afternoon at the Smart Museum, there was little evidence of the excitement of the day before. “In all my years here,” one professor commented, “I’ve never seen anything like this.”