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Two Bomb Scares Test YU Alert System

On the eve of midterm season, Yeshiva University experienced quite a scare. On Sunday, October 26th, Yeshiva University Security was alerted to a suspicious sound, beeping from a U.S. Postal Service mailbox outside of YU’s Belfer Hall. Belfer Hall, an eighteen-story building, is the University’s largest building on campus and houses classrooms, offices, and laboratories, and many other university facilities. According to a statement made by Paul Murtha, the director of YU Security, “YU Security promptly informed the NYPD, who responded right away.” Soon after the sounds were reported, YU Security, in cooperation with the NYPD, began vacating Belfer Hall and its neighboring building, Rubin Hall. The two buildings, however, were just the first to be closed that afternoon. The NYPD also closed down Amsterdam Avenue between 184th and 186th Streets, hanging up the familiar yellow crime scene tape as well as white tape proclaiming, “POLICE LINE: DO NOT CROSS.” Morgenstern Hall would close later, as well the library’s entranceway.

After the NYPD explosive technicians approached the the mailbox to listen to the sound,  they called the U.S. Postal Service inspectors to bring special keys needed to open the mailbox while the Bomb Squad unit used a special camera to peer inside the mailbox. They then inserted an X-ray machine to assess the danger.

After waiting for over an hour, police, wanting to act before it became too late, decided not to wait for the Postal Service. NYPD supervisors decided to use a hydraulic winch to cut open the metal mailbox instead of waiting for the key.

After clearing away people's mail to a safe location, the detectives discovered that the noise came from a U.S. Postal Service scanner. These scanners are used by mailmen to electronically record when a registered letter or package is dropped off. The device also serves as a GPS for managers to know the whereabouts of their carriers. The scanner makes a distinct pinging sound when its battery is running low to alert mail carriers it needs a recharge.

In order to prevent permanent loss of these expensive scanners, each device has a message on its side that requests anyone who might find it to deposit it in the nearest mailbox. Whether the scanner was already making the noise at the time it was discovered outside of the mailbox has not been determined, but the intentions of the one who found it seemed to have been innocent.

As these events played out, students who had gathered outside the crime scene tape were sent inside other YU buildings for safety until further assessment; many were ushered away from their dorm buildings into the Lamport Auditorium in Zysman Hall. Yeshiva University security sent out numerous advisory messages via phone call, text and email. According to President Joel, the safety alert system was experiencing a minor glitch that caused it to send multiple messages to each student. Students were unaware of the exact details at the time, with the alert declaring only that there was “police activity in the vicinity of Belfer Hall on Amsterdam Ave between 184th St. and 186th St.” and advising them that they should “please avoid the area until further notice.”

Many students did not have their class material and were kept from studying for midterms. Belfer and Rubin Halls were closed roughly between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm.

Another security scare occurred later that same week, on Friday, October 31st, when an unattended package was discovered near the entrance of an indoor parking garage. Police and YU Security were notified and responded right away. Messages were again sent out alerting students to the “police activity.” This too, however, turned out to be a misunderstanding. The owner of the package arrived at the scene shortly, informing security it had been left there by mistake. The box was found to be empty anyway.

After a number of potentially threatening incidents, YU Security encourages students to remain vigilant and to continue to report any suspicious behavior or items.