At 11 am on Thursday morning, North Davis Elementary School received a phoned-in bomb threat, described by officials as a “robo-call.” Naturally, school officials rightly took the threat seriously and activated the school’s emergency evacuation.
According to the police, the threat also advised that authorities had 30 minutes to evacuate the campus. The school was immediately evacuated and occupants were moved to a safe location at the Davis Arts Center.
Nearby Davis High School and St. James Elementary School were also placed on lockdown. Maria Clayton, the Public Information Officer (PIO) of DJUSD, wrote, “Davis Police and Fire responded to scene immediately and students were evacuated from campus. Police conducted a sweep of the campus and cleared students to return to their classrooms at approximately 1:45 pm. Morning kindergarten students were released from the evacuation site around their regular dismissal time.”
Davis Police Department, in conjunction with the Yolo County Bomb Squad, swept for explosives or other devices. Ultimately, the school was thoroughly searched and it was determined to be safe and officials re-opened campus.
Naturally, when threats of this sort come in, the school officials have to take them seriously, but given the amount of personnel from local and county emergency services involved and the disruption to the school day – even a fake bomb threat is completely disruptive to many in this community.
Police officials said that the motive for the threat is unknown and they are hopeful an investigation may determine the perpetrator.
No sooner did the evacuation occur, than we received a number of people saying – see, we do need an MRAP (mine-resistant ambush protected vehicle). From our perspective, while officials have to take such threats seriously, the chance of actually having a bomb on campus or other explosives is remote.
Nevertheless, let us explore the issue. On the one hand, the chief advantage of the MRAP over probably any of the alternative vehicles is that it is specifically designed to withstand high explosives. The problem with using the MRAP in a situation such as this is the problem that the MRAP has suffered all along.
“Fundamentally I don’t think the vehicle, the MRAP, is adapted to our situation,” Mayor Pro Tem Robb explained in October. “It does one thing well, it protects people inside.
“One of the reasons we’re seeing them show up in our communities is because they haven’t worked very well except for one thing – as you’re going down a road, a pretty straight road, a flat road, if a bomb goes off, it will protect everybody inside. That we know. Everyone agrees with that,” the Mayor Pro Tem explained. “Where the disagreement comes in is what happens if you have to wheel it into a tight spot.”
“What happens in an urban environment?” he continued. “The consensus there is that it’s not very well adapted.”
Robb Davis was, of course, just describing the difficulty of maneuvering the vehicle on city streets, let alone somehow getting it onto a school campus.
As Assistant Chief Pytel explained in November, the MRAP “really is a defensive type of vehicle. It has armor protection so you can move officers into an environment where firearms are present, and you don’t have to worry about getting hit. The MRAP will actually take care of all the rifles we encounter.”
He explained that the range of rifles are long and you cannot get in close to negotiation. “It actually does give us the ability to get in close. “
For those types of situations, we can see the value of having an MRAP. But in trying to find a bomb or explosive device on campus that might be in an indoor classroom, there are likely better tools available.
For example, Assistant Chief Pytel talked about the robot that the police now have that is equipped with a video camera on it. They might be able to send such a robot to inspect for explosives – but at the end of the day, you have your bomb squad, trained on the ground with dogs to hopefully sniff out explosives, and you have to hope for the best.
In the end on Thursday, we were fortunate. The bomb threat was a fake. The incident, while disruptive, was a waste of time for police, fire, bomb squad, teachers, students, parents, district officials and, ultimately, community members.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of it is that, while you knew at the time it was most likely a fake, you also know that you have to take such things seriously. As my wife put it to me, I may well have responded differently had this been my own children at the school, but I think probably not.
It is unfortunate but it is the world we live in. And it’s not necessarily new. When I was in undergraduate school more than 20 years ago at Cal Poly, we frequently had bomb threats called when students wanted to avoid exams or term papers being due.
Those were the days before Columbine and 9/11, but the officials still took the threats seriously.
—David M. Greenwald reporting