TAMPA — The call about a gunman emptied out the University of South Florida Police Department.
Out went the chief, major, four lieutenants, a captain, three detectives and the patrol officers.
And out went a security alert that reached 15,500 students and faculty members over e-mail and cell phones, USF Lt. Meg Ross said.
"Avoid Cooper Hall area due to police activity."
That was at 2:20 p.m. Sixteen minutes later, another message went out: all clear.
An officer had found the source of the threat. It was an ROTC student carrying around his practice rifle out of uniform.
"There was no indication anyone saw him threaten anyone with the rifle," Ross said.
But the false alarm marked the first time USF authorities had responded to a possible shooter since the April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech shootings, which killed 33 and heightened campus security across all U.S. colleges.
Ross said USF's police force responded well, and its seven-year-old "mobull" emergency messaging system quickly reached its targets.
"It was the kind of thing that gets your adrenaline going," she said. "Everything worked."
Students now can choose whether or not to register their e-mails and cell phone numbers with the security system, USF spokeswoman Lara Wade said. But that will become mandatory next fall.
The last time the system was used was during a tropical storm years ago, school officials said.
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or firstname.lastname@example.org.