Numerous threats canceled all evening classes and campus was evacuated.
By Solomon Smith, Ricardo Varela and Dede Ogbueze
Valley College faculty, staff and students were evacuated from campus March 30 by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after several threats were made against the recently-opened Monarch Center and the Library and Academic Resource Center.
The threats were determined not to be credible, but these situations raise eyebrows about the school’s emergency preparation and response. Students were made aware of the evacuation by text message alert, a part of the school’s “Blackboard” notification system, according to Deputy Sheriff Javante Brown.
“We are working on making the communication faster,” said Brown. “This last incident, students were getting information from other students, instead of from [the sheriff’s office,] so we need to prevent that.”
The school received three threatening calls, two of which were about a bomb on campus and an individual with a gun in the library, according to Brown. The first call came in at 11:55 a.m. and the last threat was made about 3 p.m.
“Some students looked scared,” said student Mai Thai, who was in the library. “I had to go to my next class, which was ceramics, and there I found out class had been canceled.”
College sheriffs cordoned off Campus Drive between the Emergency Services Building and Monarch Center at approximately 1:30 p.m. Responding off-campus officers, including K-9 units, taped off the area and established a perimeter around the Admin 2 bungalow. A Sheriff’s bomb squad arrived at the staging area at 3 p.m. and deployed a bomb-disposal robot to investigate and dispose of the suspicious package.
Valley College President Erika Endrijonas said she was off campus at the start of the incident, but was alerted and returned to campus. She established an Emergency Operations Center, a protocol including herself, all three Valley vice presidents, the director of facilities, sheriff’s contacts and others trained on how to operate during a crisis on campus. Endrijonas then closed down the school.
“In this case, we felt that the number of phone calls really necessitated the closing, just out of safety,” said Endrijonas. “Especially because there have been so many instances at college campuses.”
The sheriff’s department cleared campus and determined that the threats were not credible at about 4:30 p.m. The lockdown was lifted, but evening classes remained canceled.
There have been three incidents in the past three years involving threats of bombs and gunmen at Valley. The college was evacuated during finals week in 2013 due to a bomb threat, and in 2014, a similar incident occurred where the campus was closed and students were evacuated.
Mount San Antonio College and Walnut High School were evacuated on March 24 in a similar, but unrelated, incident. Those two institutions, however, resumed operation after the threat was neutralized.
“It is all clear at Mt. San Antonio College regarding the bomb threat,” the sheriff’s department said on Twitter. “Nothing was found and normal campus activity has resumed.”
Brown stated that in the case of future evacuations, there will be designated members of the campus Emergency Operations Center dressed in yellow vests to guide students and faculty to safety. He added that faculty is being briefed on safety procedures and will undergo building marshall training.