November 12, 2009

False Alarms and Copy Cats

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

MoBull Messenger is the University of South Florida (USF) emergency text messaging system that faculty, staff, and students can register for, in order to receive emergency notices. As I mentioned in a previous post, on the principle of not wishing to further enrich my cell phone provider, I do not have a texting plan. Yet, on October 5 I received 7 MoBull texts on my cell phone.

I received the following text at 1:47 pm: “Alert Tampa Campus- EMERGENCY: Armed intruder on campus. Stay inside. Lock doors. Emergency personnel responding.” About 20 minutes later, the alert gave the location of the armed person as the library and warned to “avoid the area”.

Click here to see video about the USF lockdowns

Almost exactly an hour after the first alert, I got this message: “Tampa Campus—A separate report of a suspect on a Bullrunner (campus shuttle) in the Parking and Transportation Services possibly armed. Avoid area and entire campus on alert. “ At 3:19, I received a fourth text message and began to wonder whether this was a joke—of poor taste to be sure—because the description grew stranger : “Tampa campus—white male subject seen in the Cooper Hall area in black tank top, cowboy hat carrying black puppy and a large hunting knife. Officers en route.”

Four minutes later I received the fifth text message as “clarification regarding multiple alerts”. The last two messages said “all clear” and that the “emergency is over”. Had I been on campus I would have heard sirens wail and possibly glimpsed SWAT team members with assault rifles! The campus was shut down for almost three hours.

This was the third time this year that USF has locked down its campus as a precaution against widespread campus violence.


The time before this—in July—I received a MoBull Messenger text as I dropped off a colleague at his office after lunch; the text said that there was a gunman on campus! Although I was right across the road from USF, I drove away from the campus after reading that text. I completed some errands while receiving additional texts warning us to stay away from the campus. I called my mother to let her know that I was not there, as I knew that she was at home and probably seeing a news ticker on her television and that news of a gunman on the campus would cause her some panic.

When I had no other errands and the campus was still on lockdown I headed home and continued my work there. In this case, a “gunman” called a crisis center, reporting that he was in a parking lot on the USF campus with a gun that he was willing to use. The man may never have been on the campus, but was apparently suicidal and was taken for a mental evaluation under the Baker Act.

The first incident of this nature occurred in June when there was a report of a man with a gun in the USF Greek Village which houses 13 sororities and fraternities. This one turned out to be a uniformed ROTC student with his practice rifle. MoBull messages were sent out; the all clear was issued only 16 minutes after the initial message.


In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell describes a “contagious epidemic” of teen suicides in Micronesia. These suicides began with a high-profile one that received lots of attention and was widely copied. Indeed, sociologist David Phillips has found that national suicide rates increase significantly after one is highly publicized. In the Afterword of the book, Gladwell notes that after the Columbine High school shootings in 1999, there were several copy-cat incidents—Gladwell argues these teens were “infected” by the Columbine shootings.

Might the USF false alarms lockdowns be due to copy-cats as well? The first case with the ROTC cadet may have set the stage: a mistake garnered a big response from the campus police and local media. The second episode—that of a gunman saying he was willing to use a gun on the campus was met with an even bigger response—a campus lockdown. Although this person may not have even been on the campus, again there was a big news story about the university responding to what was thought to be an emergency.

The first perpetrator of the most recent USF case was very familiar with the previous reports of armed subjects on the camps as well as with the results. Markenson Innocent not only updated his Facebook page throughout the incident, but also mentioned the bomb threat before it was made saying: "I hope they get my good side!” According to police, using another name, Innocent called police and said that Markenson Innocent had a gun and bomb at the university library. I guess Innocent did not want to take the chance that he would not be discovered or that the wrong person would be arrested. On the same day, there was an alert about a man on the school shuttle; it turns out that Vincent Thomas-Perry McCoy was “joking”.

Since one student at Virginia Tech shot and killed 32 people in 2007 before turning the gun on himself, U.S. universities have implemented plans aimed at minimizing the likelihood that this mass murder would be copied. Perhaps we at USF are fortunate that the act being copied here is nothing more serious than a false alarm. Do you have a different theory to explain what has happened? What do you predict will happen regarding USF campus alarms based on my theory, or yours, if it differs?

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Comments

i predict that if someone like a creepy man heard about this he may be influenced and would try to strike because he got an idea from this joke based on your theory.

My point of view is similar to yours. I also believe that after an incident that gave someone lots of attention, especially for doing something horrific, other desperate souls follow in their footsteps. Public massacres and suicides are, for a lack of a better word "easy". You do not need to receive a degree, invest a lot of money, or have a talent to go into a random public space and start killing innocent people or take your own life. All that is needed is depression and unheard or misunderstood frustration. I am NOT justifying all those insane people who committed such a crime. All I am saying is that it is the only way they get the attention they desired. Therefore, when one crazy man kills himself with a group of innocent people and gets lots of attention for doing so, other confused and wicked minds will follow in his footsteps. Others, who are not delusional enough to kill, but still are constantly needy for attention, are stupid enough to "joke" causing mass panic. We all know people like that, and I would like to say to them that I'm sorry your mommy or daddy didn’t give you enough attention but that is not an excuse

This copy-cat occurrance is disturbing to say the least. To joke about such a tragic thing is sick. At Virginia Tech so many people lost their lives and if you were to tell someone on campus there about the jokes some have been playing on USF campus no one would laugh. It'll only be so long before no one takes the threats seriously and then it'll be too late.

It is just like "the boy who cried wolf", individuals cannot keep joking about violence. Officials have a duty to protect the campus and will do so even if there are multiple false alarms about intended violence on campus. Some individuals that do these false alarms are probably pathetic losers with no better things to do in there spare time and need to be investigated. The campus is just going to be more cautious with every emergency they get. It is never funny to joke about these sort of things.

I think this whole thing has gotten out of hand. Students today are so desensitized to violence they'll do anything if they think there friends will get a laugh out of it. The campus did the right thing alerting the entire campus, but its the "gunmans" fault not USF. Some kid just didn't want to go to class that day.

Although it may be frustrating for the USF students to continue having these false alarms, I think its better safe than sorry. As a college student, knowing that the police and the university is on top of those situations so quickly is reassuring. It would be very frightening to receive a text message like the ones sent out at USF but I would feel very relieved knowing that the threat is by someone who is thriving for attention with no intentions than someone who is ready to act on his/her threat. The people who choose to use these threats for attention do not realize the pain, fear or trauma it may cause for some students and only see it as a way to affect a large group of people very quickly. But you can never take these situations too lightly, for instance, Virgina Tech. I feel that USF is doing the right thing and should continue to pursue anything that they feel could put their students and staff in danger.

I would have to agree that these copy cat and false alarms are annoying at times and usually ignored, they should continue to be enforced because of today's society. Texting allows word to travel fast and in our world today you never know when a crazed gunman will enter a campus. It's sad we have come to this, but it is an essential life saving tool.

I feel that USF took the right precautions that were neccessary to take. Even though the threat ended up being just a false alarm, they did the right thing. Who knows, the next time could be the real thing. With everything that happened at Virgina Tech I feel that no university should ignore the littlest threat. Recently a bomb threat was made at my school, and a mass email was sent to all the students. All day policemen were patrolling the campus, and I felt very safe. Even though this threat was probably just a student playing a joke, the University took it seriously, its better to be safe than sorry. It is sad to think about how someone saying the smallest thing about violence can turn into such a big deal, and people are scared out of their minds. No one should feel like their not safe, especially at college, where their far away from home. It is sad that the world has come to this.

The text alarm system i believe is a very good idea, seeing how the majority of people today text more than call. I even find it hard to type this post without using text shortcuts, but i think it's sad that some people are so immature with the false alarm jokes. Still it shows the text system can be very effective.

I have to agree with Ryan Story. I think that USF made the right choice by acting as the false alarm was real. With everything that has been going on in this world, i think that you need to take every situation into your own hands and take it as if it were real because you never know when it is going to be real. It is always better to be safe than to be sorry. There have been many bomb threats at my school and they always make us feel safe. However, with all of this said i do not believe that the text alarm system is a very good idea. A text can sometimes be blown off and may take a while. A phone call is much more faster.

I agress with ryan, i think USF made the right decision when they acted as if the false alarm was real. this could have saved countless lives if this had been a real threat. they could not afford to have another shooting like Virgina Tech, so if locking down the campus is what it takes to keep people safe then they need to contuine with what they are doing!

I think that the fact that so many people are bringing guns and other types of weapons to school is sad. People go to school to try to learn and now others want to hinder it by making it not safe. I do agree that some copying is being done. People often feel that in order to have attention they have to go to extreme lengths in doing so and sometimes choose a way which affects others. A person can see someone doing something wrong and see it in the media and how publicized the person is and be attracted to that. They minipulate the system by being fake and not realizing the severities of their actions when they have people concerned sending out messages that turn up to be false. Death seems like it is not a big deal and guns have been softened to wear people just blow it off and think oh well. Now when something is really going to be serious people are going to think that its just fake again.

I think it has something to do with a need for attention. Obviously when things as tragic as the VTech incident happen it causes a lot of exposure, which might be exactly what the person wants.

I belive that this is indeed a case of one copying some one for attention, because its not likley for this to happen that freguently.I would have to say that the USF alarms would remain the same, because although in these cases they were false alarms it is still inportant to be ready for the real thing.These fake alarms still need to be treated as the real thing beacuse you never no when some one with a mental problem will decide to turn and attack.

I believe that the texting system that alarms people of a possible on campus crisis is a good idea, but it does have the ability to cause problems. People can take advantage of this and try to make a joke out of scaring people. If more copying of the Virgina Tech alarms are spread through texting at USF then when a really situation is at hand that people should be alarmed about there is the possibility that they will blow it off.

I believe that the text messaging system is effective because students respond to text messages more than anything these days. I also agree that it is very immature to play jokes like this that effects an entire college campus.

I believe that colleges have become a very unsafe haven in this day in time. I am very fortunate that my college has a security effort in pratice. Wherever you are on campus you should be able to make a 180 degree turn and find an emergncy button that sounds off. When the alarm rings the police come and examine the situation. When looking for colleges safety was one of the top priorities.

Not too long ago, the UPD of my college was notifying everyone via email of a bomb threat that had occurred. What is sad is it wasn’t our first bomb threat, it was our second one of the semester. They both turned out to be nothing, just probably some student who didn’t want to go to school or just wanted to play a joke. But it was reassuring to know that my school was taking actions as to protect everyone on campus, they alerted us to be cautious where ever we went on campus, etc. And the same goes for the USF incident, even though the students got multiple text alerts about different incidents occurring on campus, it may be annoying, but its definitely better to be safe than sorry. And like the blogger mentions that having these false alerts does easily influence some to do senseless things, but we cant avoid that. Its human nature and there will always be those people who like to copy cat, because they don’t really have a mind of their own or they just want to joke around. We can’t really avoid all the false alarms and copy cats, all we have to do is just be aware of our surroundings everywhere we go.

With college shootings becoming more and more common, we all have to take precautions as to protecting ourselves.

Not too long ago, the UPD of my college was notifying everyone via email of a bomb threat that had occurred. What is sad is it wasn’t our first bomb threat, it was our second one of the semester. They both turned out to be nothing, just probably some student who didn’t want to go to school or just wanted to play a joke. But it was reassuring to know that my school was taking actions as to protect everyone on campus, they alerted us to be cautious where ever we went on campus, etc. And the same goes for the USF incident, even though the students got multiple text alerts about different incidents occurring on campus, it may be annoying, but its definitely better to be safe than sorry. And like the blogger mentions that having these false alerts does easily influence some to do senseless things, but we cant avoid that. Its human nature and there will always be those people who like to copy cat, because they don’t really have a mind of their own or they just want to joke around. We can’t really avoid all the false alarms and copy cats, all we have to do is just be aware of our surroundings everywhere we go.

And with school shootings becoming more and more common these days, we all have to take precautions as to protecting ourselves.

I've only been at my school for two semesters and both semesters there has been a bomb threat in a selected building. They email or computers and tell us that class might be canceled in the selected building or not. I feel like are emergency cell phone system has not been put to use at all because they should have sent us a mobile message about the situations because of the fact that emails aren't being used as often. I know USF sends multiple text messages but i feel like that is a really smart and safe way, especially since there has been several mass university shootings in the past. I agree with Zeleste Tombo because we really must take precautions as to protecting are selves all the way!

I am attending UNF also in Florida and we have had bomb threats a few times and its not to be taken lightly after the Virginia Tech tragedy. I feel as though the people that are caught "joking" about this sort of thing should be severely punished regardless of if they actually had plans of violence.

I also go to UNF in Jacksonville, Florida and I feel that USF acted as they should have. Even in the midst of a false alarm, precautions must be taken and students and faculty must be notified. Just because it was a false alarm doesn't mean it should be completely blown off. Serious things happen at schools these days. Bomb threats and shootings are all too common, and unfortunately have taken lives in the past. A reoccurance of something so devestating must be taken seriously and no mistakes should be made. At my school we have recently had a bomb threat in one of our buildings. The school sent out and email but I personally feel a text should have been sent out. Students are more likely to read a text in a timely manner than they are to read an email on their school account.

I feel that students shouldn't have a problem with their university being overly cautious with sending out alerts. Any threat received by a school should not be taken lightly, considering other incidents that have occurred in the past. Certain people crave attention, and when an opportunity arises for them to be shown in the mass media, they will take it. Negative media spreads very fast to a large amount of people, and certain individuals want their 15 minutes, even if it's for an immoral act.

I love the fact that my university sends out warnings. I would much rather get 7 text messages alerting me of the situation then walking in on it. In light of everything our nation has gone through it think USF is taking the proper precautions.
Copy cats are a large problem. When something drastic happens (like murders) the police withhold information to keep from having a false confession. It is sick to see how some people can be so attention craving that they would falsely admit to committing a crime.

In my opinion there are many variable that contribute to the argument of the reasoning behind so many "copy cat" crimes. Age, social class, and childhood background certainly play a big role in it. Some must have been neglected by their parents as children and even abused. Some may have been poor all their lives. Thought that they in no way had a chance at living up to the expectations of society in order to jump social classes, and thought this is the only way that they would ever be "famous" in society. Some were just immature and thought that making light of such tragic events was in some way comedic.
In any case I believe that a lot of what is going on here is "monkey see, monkey do". People see our mass media always speaking of the tragic events and then the aftermath of that when people speak about it for months and sometimes years to come. They have something inside them that longs for attention such as these others got.
Websites and postings such as these are some of the main reasons why people commit these heinous crimes. I'm not trying to lobby against mass media, I find it extremely useful. I also have to admit that I myself am one of the people I am describing in this very article, that contribute to the conversations of mass death and suicides. I just think that in all aspects of life, anytime you create something so largely useful, what comes along with it are the many pros, and many cons.

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