Three times in the past three weeks, Carnegie Mellon University has received bomb threats in anonymous e-mails. Like a dozen other universities across the country receiving similar threats, CMU evacuated buildings and swept them for bombs. But nothing has been found -- and if the e-mailer is hoping to terrorize students, it isn't working.
Robin Luo was playing cards with some friends when they received nine separate phone calls from the university informing them of a bomb threat on campus. Luo and her friends continued playing cards without batting an eyelash.
Luo is among a large population of CMU students who feel that the bomb warnings were merely empty threats -- annoyances that have pestered students without really frightening them.
The university is currently in a cooperative effort with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to find the anonymous e-mailer. The FBI is urging students and university personnel alike to exercise good judgment over the situation and not to become too complacent.
"We're concerned that people aren't taking it seriously," said special agent William J. Crowley, Pittsburgh media coordinator of the FBI's Pittsburgh division.
Carnegie Mellon joins a dozen other American universities -- among them Princeton, Cornell and Oregon State -- who all have received similar versions of the e-mail. Each school has received e-mails from an anonymous sender, explaining the bomb was in a specific spot on campus and would explode at a given date.
"We're looking at the national perspective to see if there are any links [between the bomb threats]," Crowley says.
In response to the Virginia Tech tragedy last year, CMU recently expanded its emergency notification system, AlertNow, to include not only deans, department heads and floor marshals, but also students. The initial bomb threat, on Aug. 24, was the first use of the system. The messages detailed the threat and let over 5,000 recipients know they could see updates on the university's Web site. It may have worked too flawlessly.
"We have had some students say, 'Hey, this is too much,'" Ken Walters, CMU spokesperson said. "But most students want to know what's going on on campus."
Yet, despite the FBI's warnings, some students remain unconvinced of the danger.
Alonzo Benavides, a sophomore computer science and physics major, reasons the bomb threats are simply a catalyst for reaction -- to get under people's skin. He finds it troublesome to give credence to the threats; after all, a bomb was never found.
"If something was going to happen," he observed, "it would have happened already."
When the emergency notification system at Carnegie Mellon reached freshman Sumin Park's fine arts class, her professor told the class not to worry about the information of a bomb threat -- it wasn't directed toward their building anyway.
"I think it's unfair if people . . . [are] just messing," Park says. "Even when I'm talking to my friends, they aren't scared. I think it's just a joke."
After awhile the threats and continuous alerts became amusing, Luo said. She recalls the recent Aug. 30 water-main break in Oakland, and remembers the university's reaction to it.
"I think the water-main break was a bigger deal than the bomb threats," she says.
The 20-year-old senior design student thinks it's silly to be afraid of the three bomb threats, especially since they've all turned out to be baseless. "If you're going to freak out about that," she says, "you really should freak out about your homework instead."