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President's Message: Let's be alert, not anxious

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October 19, 2001
To the Campus Community:

Up to now, when I have talked about the campus climate in the wake of Sept. 11, my focus has been on how we can best support each other and how we can maintain the spirit of community we have showed so strongly from the very day of the tragedies. This message addresses a different, emerging concern: how we can cope with the alarm and tension aroused by the anthrax incidents across the country.

I know that many among us are terribly anxious. All of us, I suspect, are looking around us with new eyes, quicker to see a potential threat in a familiar setting. Public Safety has been asked in recent days to check on such things as "a pile of white powder" outside the library (a small quantity of sugar, with the packets nearby) and an envelope lacking a return address (a sales pitch for, ironically, a workshop on coping with terrorism). There is good news and more good news concerning these and other incidents. They have uniformly been innocent, and the emergency response from our Public Safety officers and their allied colleagues -- the SF Fire Department, for one -- has been outstanding: immediate, professional, and comprehensive. We have had the chance to see that if an emergency were to occur, we would be in excellent hands.

Still, I would hope that we could learn to ratchet our tension down a bit. We have put solid precautionary procedures in place on this campus for the handling of mail. I detailed some of them in a recent message -- the X-rays of all mail passing through Mail Services and the guidelines for recognizing suspicious mail among them. Gloves and masks are offering Mail Services staff sensible protection and greater peace of mind. Through Human Resources, Public Safety, and Environmental Health and Safety, we have offered mail handling workshops for faculty, staff, and student workers. And the abundant factual information about the recent anthrax cases reminds us that for all the alarm and potential exposure, only seven people in the United States have actually contracted the illness, and excepting the first case, all are recovering.

I recognize that we can know all this and still feel afraid. But I hope it helps to know that we are working very hard to keep this campus safe, and so far, we have succeeded.

One more positive point in the campus picture: Unlike many other sites across the country, we have not been faced with the demoralizing and disturbing phenomenon of the hoax. Our false alarms all were the result of honest concern by people on campus. We need and value such concern. Better 100 needless calls than one situation in which someone says to her - or himself: I'd feel silly if I called and it was nothing. Looking out for ourselves and each other is the best protection we have.

This campus is a pretty good place to be in these difficult times. We have a broad and dedicated team with expertise in many aspects of emergency response. We have a well-established sense of community. And we have a depth of spirit that I believe will continue to see us through. Heightened awareness is certainly called for; extreme anxiety is not.

Robert A. Corrigan

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Last modified February 20, 2002, by the Office of Public Affairs