For more than five hours, WLU was placed under lockdown Oct. 16, the last day of the school’s reading week. </p>
From 6 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., all school activities were suspended as numerous law enforcement agencies worked together to investigate an online threat targeting the school’s Bricker Science Building.
Students and staff were asked to stay away from campus and avoid accessing surrounding areas. University of Waterloo was not under threat.
On Oct. 17, a 22-year-old man in London, U.K., was arrested for posting the threat and charged with malicious communication. Since this was an international arrest, the charges facing the suspect would depend on the jurisdiction they’re arrested in, said Michael Haffner, the staff sergeant executive officer for the Waterloo Regional Police Service (WRPS).
“The University of Waterloo was not mentioned. My understanding is …it was specifically the Wilfrid Laurier University that was mentioned in the posting,” said Pat Dietrich of WRPS at a news conference once the lockdown had been lifted. The decision to lockdown was made by WLU administration on advice from WRPS.
According to Nick Manning, UW’s director of media relations and issues management, UW’s decision not to pursue a lockdown came after consulting with other agencies involved in the investigation.
“We were able to assess the risk and threat to our campus and were able to conclude that there was no threat to the university,” said Manning. “We did monitor that situation quite carefully throughout the day … [in case] we needed to revise that decision.”
Manning went on to explain that if a lockdown did take place on the UW campus, the circumstances surrounding the threat would determine the methods law enforcement would use. If a lockdown is necessary, according to the list outlined in the emergency lockdown procedures provided by UW Police, students can expect to be contacted through any “UW networked computer, UW website, text message to registered cell phones, voice mail broadcast, [and] in person notification by police.”
In a tweet Friday morning, UW notified followers that there was “no threat to our campus.” None of the Twitter updates addressed whether staff and students needed to exercise any caution near the WLU campus or its surrounding areas.
“We wanted to be clear to our students that there was no threat to the University of Waterloo and the situation was moving very, very quickly early in the morning…. We wanted to reassure our campus community that there was no threat to our campus,” said Manning, when asked why further precautions weren’t advised to students over Twitter.
The investigation surrounding WLU’s lockdown brought together the RCMP, FBI, and regional and campus police as they spent the morning hours determining the severity of the threat.
The post, originally found on 4chan.org, was brought to law enforcement’s attention because it resembled the verbiage used on 4chan prior to the Oct. 1 attack at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College.
At the press conference WLU president Max Blouw said that the FBI had been first to red flag the post and it was through them that WLU and WRPS were notified.
In addition to the threat against WLU, other Canadian universities have faced threats to their campuses. McMaster University in Hamilton was notified by their regional police, also on Oct. 16, that an online threat was made against their campus. While the second incident took place outside Waterloo, this brings to question how threats like this are monitored.
When Imprint reached out to the Kitchener division of the RCMP, Penny Hermann, their media co-ordinator, was unable to comment on the methods RCMP use to monitor these sorts of threats. Instead, they directed questions to regional police.
“I wouldn’t have the specific details as to the number of posts or blogs or messages that are written specifically to education facilities. However, it is something that we as an organization have dealt with in the past,” said Haffner.
Similar to the RCMP, Haffner was unable to comment on the WRPS investigative techniques, however Manning did confirm UW does monitor for threats to its campus, but was not able to expand on the methods used “for understandable security reasons.”