Anthrax scare brought out ACU's teamwork


Thursday | October 11, 2001

By Loretta Fulton / Abilene Reporter-News


The crisis management team at Abilene Christian University was well-prepared -- for a tornado, or maybe even a flood.

No one thought of an anthrax scare.

But as the team's name implies, the team jumped into high gear in a hurry when word came Tuesday evening that a suspicious letter had been opened in the Hardin Administration Building and authorities, including the FBI, had been notified.

The team consists of people from various areas of the campus, including media relations, computer network technicians, facilities managers and campus life. The team was so well-prepared because it had intensified its efforts during the past year, said team member Michelle Morris, director of marketing and public relations.

As soon as word of the incident spread, about 5:45 p.m., the team sprang into action.

By 8 p.m. the team had updated the university's Web site to include a "letter to the students" from ACU President Royce Money, which the team composed. It outlined what had happened, the belief that there was no danger, and instructions for students and employees who work or attend class in the administration building. Between 8 and 9 p.m., emails were sent to all students and employees, and by 10 p.m. Money's letter was physically delivered to every student in the residence halls.

Technicians kept university phone lines open all night so concerned parents could call. By 10 p.m. 300 people had read the letter on the Web site and the phone calls were coming, Morris said.

The team wasn't finished. They huddled at midnight to plan a press conference for 10:30 Wednesday morning. Two press releases were written, copies of Money's letter were made, and information on anthrax was pulled off the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site for distribution to reporters.

Telephones, power sources and Internet connections were set up in the press conference room in case the media needed them. Even coffee and doughnuts were ordered.

Student journalists got a first-hand taste of deadline reporting. Jessica Smith, editor of the ACU Optimist, gathered five staff members and they started remaking the newspaper's front page as soon as she learned what happened. The paper is published twice a week, Wednesday and Friday.

Smith and other reporters went to the administration building and stayed as long as they could. By 10 p.m. they were back in the office rewriting and redesigning the eight-page paper.

"At that point we ripped up the front page and one inside page," Smith said.

The paper was rushed to the Abilene Reporter-News at 11 p.m. to print and was picked up at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, in time to distribute at the end of the 11 a.m. chapel service.

Cheryl Bacon, chairwoman of the Department of Journalism and Mass Communication, was impressed with what she saw. "It's the way journalism students become journalists," she said.

Contact staff writer Loretta Fulton at 676-6778 or fultonl@abinews.com.

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Last update: October 11, 2001

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