“Middle Eastern Accent”

The University of Texas at Austin had a bomb scare this morning. Thank God it turned out to be a hoax and that classes were cancelled for everybody. Yet, while everybody moved forward with their extended weekends, three concerns came to the forefront of many students’ minds.

Why did President Powers and the administration wait so long to finally evacuate the campus?

Authorities received a bomb threat over the phone at 8:35a.m. The caller claimed that the “bombs all over campus” would go off in 90 minutes. An evacuation order for all buildings on campus was issued at 9:53a.m., roughly 78 minutes later. If the threats were real and accurate, that would have allotted 12 minutes to clear the entire Forty Acres.

Decisions like these need to happen a lot more quickly. It is much better to be safe than sorry. Had the threats been real, President Powers would have surely lost his job for such a prolonged delay – a punishment I would deem light.

Was “Middle Eastern Accent” supposed to alarm the UT Community at a higher level during the evacuation?

In her initial description of the threat, UT Communications Director Rhonda Weldon noted that the caller had a “Middle Eastern accent.” I love transparency, but there are simply some things that are not necessary for disclosure during a bomb scare. If the caller had a “Midwestern accent,” would the threat have been taken any less seriously? Would that have been less scary?

I do not believe Ms. Weldon is racist, but I do believe she had a total lack of judgment in her statement.

Why were the text alerts so sloppy?

The emergency texts sent out by the University were pretty alarming… about the reading and writing levels of those charged with communications.

Text at 10:52a.m.:

The time specified in the phone threat has past, but all buildings are not cleared yet A decision on resuming ops including classes is imminent [sic]

Text at 11:44a.m.:

buildings may be retenter today at noon, todays classes are canceled, and all other activities will resume at 5:00PM [sic]

I honestly think an extra five seconds of editing would have spared everyone their five seconds of interpreting the messages. If you are going to send out an alert to tens of thousands of people, do it correctly.
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Am I just looking for faults to criticize? No. I think the administration, UTPD and APD together do a fantastic job at keeping our campus safe. I simply want to raise these red flags so that they do not happen again.

6 thoughts on ““Middle Eastern Accent”

  1. It is important to remember in security/terrorism related issues, there is a whole lot of info they don’t share with the public, for good reason. The Powers at be (pun very intended) have plans for these contingencies and while healthy scrutiny is never a bad thing, but it’s important to remember the purposes and intent behind certain actions in situations like these might not be incredibly apparent, but at the end of the day the only bombs that’ll go off in austin are of the H variety, and that’s a good thing.

  2. The first two issues seem legitimate enough, but quibbling over some spelling/grammatical errors, despite the popularity of doing so on facebook and such, seems a tad excessive. Sure it’s mildly annoying, but I seriously doubt, even in the event of a true emergency, that anyone would require much more time to interpret the message, especially to a degree that anyone would be at a greater risk because of it. Suggesting otherwise is absurd.

  3. When I heard about the “Middle Eastern Accent” bit I thought surely that message came from Texas A&M, the school that only finds it necessary to disclose the race of a shooter/suspect when the individual is black. I guess UT didn’t want us taking all the unecessarily-biased glory.

  4. If the caller had a Midwestern accent, no it probably would not have been mentioned because it’s still American. If the called had a British accent, yes it would have been mentioned. An Australian accent, yes it would have been mentioned. Anything identifiable would/should have been mentioned. When you’re trying to identify a person by phone the ONLY thing you have to go off of is their voice. What else Could she have said?
    I do not believe it was meant to scare people. The original emergency message said nothing about it, it was the Media who decided to report it that way. Of course based on a statement, but can you really expect a staff member to give a 100% politically correct statement after she just took a bomb threat call? Pretty sure I, and anyone, would have said the exact same thing as she did. So let’s get over it.

  5. To paraphrase, racism is believing that members of a race all share a characteristic or having prejudice/discriminating against an individual because of that belief. Now this person wasn’t believed to be a terrorist because he had a middle eastern accent, the fact that he was talking about blowing up buildings and that he was from Al-Qaeda did that. Al-Qaeda is a Muslim extremist organization based out of the middle east, so of course the accent adds a tinge of credibility to the threat! If he didn’t say anything about Al-Qaeda and they mentioned the accent, then maybe there would be reason for alert.
    Independent of the political correctness, when a threatening call like this is made, I want to know everything, the words used, the time of day, etc., so providing the public with the only identifying characteristic that the caller had, in my opinion, was perfectly fine. When describing a suspect on the news they describe them as white, black, or whatever, and yet somehow that is not constantly a big deal. I mean if he’d somehow let slip his name and physical description then sure, report that instead, but since he wasn’t that stupid, give me everything else you know.

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