Report: The historic Harvard University was one of the first to receive a bomb threat in the early hours of Tuesday morning students were told to seek shelter as the sprawling campus was searched.
Similar threats were made to black colleges across the country. A few hours after we started working with law enforcement and had secured our residential students, we made the call to move classes to remote instruction for the vast majority of the morning, and then upon finding the all clear message, we did return to face-to-face instruction on the first.
No explosives were found but the unease felt by students and teachers was also in evidence at the white house. I will say that these are certainly disturbing and the white house is in touch with the interagency partners including federal law enforcement leadership on this.
The threats come in the wake of a racial reckoning in this country prompted by the high-profile killing of African-Americans such as George Floyd which paved the way for the black lives matter movement.
Some think the threats against historically black colleges and universities could be part of a backlash to that.
Whenever African-Americans begin to kind of push for rights push for recognition our institutions have been targeted by those who seek to silence those voices.
But this is the second wave of bomb threats targeting such institutions within a matter of weeks and coming on the first day of American black history month it’s also prompting lawmakers to take stock.
In a joint statement the chairman of the house intelligence committee Adam Schiff and the chairman of the counter-terrorism subcommittee Andre Carson called the threats deeply disturbing, and added we “will remain focused on ensuring that all appropriate resources are utilized to identify and prosecute the perpetrators of these threats and to combat the scourge of white supremacist violence and terrorism”.
Harvard University and the other colleges targeted were later given the all clear but the threats disrupted lessons and frayed nerves and officials have yet to discover who was behind them.
In just the first few months of 2022, and throughout the course of the year, there has been a troubling uptick in bomb threats across the country, 49 of which targeted Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and 19 against Predominately Black Institutions (PBIs). These threats – which can traumatize campuses and communities – triggered evacuations and a broad law enforcement response.
Our top priority is keeping all communities safe and the Department of Homeland Security is fundamentally a department of partnerships. In response to the threats against HBCUs and PBIs, DHS immediately met with leaders from affected communities to learn how we can best support them and followed up with information on the resources we can provide to help them stay safe.
To address these threats, Secretary Mayorkas and the Department have expanded the accessibility of DHS’s broad spectrum of services, resources, and expertise to support HBCUs across the country. In January 2022, Secretary Mayorkas promised to “…deepen our partnerships with HBCUs to protect students and faculty from an evolving range of threats.”
In August, DHS announced that we would provide $250 million through the Nonprofit Security Grant Program to support target hardening and other physical security enhancements for nonprofit organizations that are at high risk of a terrorist attack. This year, $125 million is provided to nonprofits in Urban Area Security Initiative-designated areas, and $125 million is provided to nonprofits outside those designated urban areas located in any state or territory.
DHS’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s (CISA) Office of Bombing Prevention developed a suite of resources to assist universities in responding to bomb threats, including Critical Resources for Handling Bomb Threats, which provides an overview of available resources, a bomb threat response plan template, bomb threat awareness job aid, as well as a Tabletop Exercise Package. In the coming months, CISA will host seven additional training events scheduled at five HBCU locations to provide additional information on these resources.
CISA also conducted 20 trainings on preparing for and responding to bomb threats, reaching more than 1,170 HBCU staff and security personnel. Further, CISA worked with the Atlanta University Center Consortium (AUCC), the world’s oldest and largest consortium of HBCUs, to develop and deliver a nationwide Bomb Threat Management training that addressed the recent wave of bomb threats targeting HBCUs and available federal resources. Representatives from 36 HBCUs across 16 states participated in person, and the event was livestreamed to allow other stakeholders to observe and participate in the discussions.
Throughout June and July, the DHS Office for State and Local Law Enforcement (OSLLE), in collaboration with its federal partners, held five regional trainings for HBCUs in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Virginia, reaching participants from more than 60 different HBCUs. These trainings were open to campus law enforcement and related public safety officials involved in preventing, protecting against, responding to, and recovering from threats at their campuses.
In February, DHS hosted an HBCU symposium, “The Path Forward: Campus Safety and Resilience,” to share information on available resources and products on topics such as active shooter preparedness and school safety.
In April, CISA also conducted an Active Shooter Preparedness webinar for HBCUs. Supported by CISA’s Protective Security Advisor Program, this webinar enhanced awareness of and preparedness for an active shooter event to more than 200 participants across 16 states. Attendees included HBCU safety and security directors, administrators, emergency responders, healthcare providers, and other critical support areas.
DHS, through OSLLE and TSA, and in coordination with the Department of Justice, established the HBCU K9 Bomb Detection Adoption Program. Three HBCUs have received bomb detection K9s to support campus law enforcement response efforts during an active bomb threat incident to date.
DHS Center for Prevention Programs & Partnerships (CP3) Regional Prevention Coordinators’ outreach efforts totaled 110 engagements that included organized meetings, provision of resources, and technical assistance to HBCU leaders, staff, security and law enforcement partners at the state and federal levels.
There is much more to be done. DHS remains committed to using all its resources, in coordination with other federal partners, to ensure HBCUs and PBIs have the capabilities and tools they need to prevent, protect against, and respond to threats made against their institutions.
DHS’s response has been a result of a concerted effort across its agencies and offices. The Department has also partnered with the Department of Education’s White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence and Economic Opportunity through HBCUs; the Department of Justice; and others to make a range of services and resources available to HBCUs.