Did we overreact, or did we err on side of caution?

Published 11:19 pm Friday, May 10, 2013

We could long debate whether those making calls in the aftermath of the “bomb scare” that shut down schools and government buildings in Covington County Thursday acted appropriately.

But what we learned, is that as a community, we need better emergency communications among agencies and a better reaction plan.

A phone call to the Pardons and Parole office in Covington County Thursday resulted in a three-county, multi-agency investigation that eventually sent a Coffee County man to a hospital to be evaluated. No charges have been filed.

In numerous off-the-record conversations Thursday afternoon and Friday, we learned that a command center had been set up in Houston County before some local agencies had even been contacted.

Further, key stakeholders charged with making decisions about buildings and organizations spent their day making those decisions believing, as did the media, that the caller had said an explosive package would be delivered to a government building.

The “truth” to which most of us reacted Thursday is very grey when compared to the actual statement made by the caller, which was that a bomb was being made at a Coffee County residence with the intent of delivering it to a government building.

Had that information been shared, quickly and accurately, the decisions made Thursday might not have been so drastic, but they might have been the same. Given recent events on U.S. soil, it is understandable to want to err on the side of caution.

Still, if the threat had been serious, some of the actions taken could have proven fatal. For instance, children were initially evacuated from school buildings. However, they were allowed to go back in the school buildings, and remain until parents picked them up. If there had been a bomb, we certainly would have wanted those students to forego claiming cell phones or textbooks and remain safely out of harm’s way.

It was evident Thursday that each agency wanted only to ensure public safety. Better communications would have made that process much more efficient.