On Friday morning, a dormitory floor’s publicity stunt was a dud.
The Cambridge Bomb Squad responded to what appeared to be a cartoon bomb made of concrete, advertising the annual Dance Till You Drop party held by the Burton Third Bombers.
On Friday morning, students watched as bomb squad members sent a robot to inspect the object, which was painted black with “DTYD” written in orange letters. A man in a protective suit inspected the “bomb” up close. A small explosive charge was detonated next to the concrete in an effort to trigger any possible explosives embedded inside.
Burton-Conner will be billed by the city for the costs of the multi-hour effort, residents were told by Barbara A. Baker, Senior Associate Dean for Students. Those costs are not yet clear, but may reach tens of thousands of dollars.
The bomb squad was called in by the Cambridge Fire Department, who was called by the MIT Police at about 5 a.m. Friday to ensure that the inciting object was not dangerous.
Eventually, bomb squad personnel used a crowbar chained to a winch on the front of a fire truck to remove the block from the ground. After the block was flipped over, the bomb squad declared an all-clear, and Facilities employees with a forklift removed the block.
The “bomb” turned out to be a heavy concrete hemisphere made to look like it was buried in the ground, with a rope “fuse” glued on top and with metal spikes attached to the bottom that made it hard to remove from the ground.
Eric D. Schmiedl ’09 said that he saw MIT police sergeant Gerald P. Doyle at 3 a.m. that morning and informed him that there was a hack shaped like a bomb on Kresge Oval. Schmiedl is a Tech photographer.
Noah S. Jessop ’09, the outgoing Undergraduate Association President, witnessed the bomb squad in action and saw the squad when they eventually realized the “bomb” was a just a block of concrete. After the block was flipped, a bomb technician wearing a blast-resistant suit took off his suit as others posed for photos with the block.
In a statement (see right), residents of Burton Third apologized for the incident and said that the block was a hack meant to advertise the evening’s party.
The event was a “big misunderstanding,” said Burton-Conner housemaster Merritt Roe Smith. Objects that look like bombs are part of “very sensitive issues, and I understand that.” But, he said, if people were to “pay a little closer attention to student culture,” there might be fewer misunderstandings like Friday’s event.
As of Monday evening, Smith had not been notified of the cost of bomb removal.
Charles Lin G, a Burton Third resident, said he was disappointed that the bomb squad had been called in hours after MIT Police were told that the concrete block was a harmless student prank.
“I’m just mad that the police knew it was a hack. The police knew it was a hack and ended up calling in a bomb squad?” said Lin, who is also a senior editor for The Tech.
David M. Barber, MIT’s hack removal czar, said on Monday that costs for fire and emergency response incidents such as this one are calculated on an annual rather than individual basis, with Cambridge and MIT making a good-faith effort to calculate a fair cost based on the total number of incidents across the year and resources utilized.
When asked about a rumored $20,000 cost, Barber said “I don’t think it’s high.” Barber said that based on the people present and the resources used, “I would say that’s probably not too far from accurate.”
That rumor has not been confirmed.
What is Barber’s advice on how to avoid a situation like this? Do “not use a prop that looks like a bomb … Last year it was a black plane hanging from the dome of seven. It’s a difference in what you choose to convey your message.”
The party went on as planned on Friday night.