The University of Southern Maine is investigating a security breach that could have placed millions of dollars of personal property as well as confidential records at risk.
University officials say someone broke into a parked university van and stole a set of keys that gave the burglar access to between 40 and 50 buildings on the Portland and Gorham campuses.
Spokesman Robert Caswell said that university staff discovered the break-in to a telecommunications department van, which had been parked in a lot off Falmouth Street between Payson Smith Hall and the science building in Portland, late Tuesday morning. The van had been parked overnight in the lot.
A tool belt and tool pouch were stolen from the van, along with the set of keys, Caswell said.
Caswell said the university hired locksmiths, who spent Tuesday afternoon and evening replacing as many locks as possible at the affected buildings on both campuses. Caswell said locks at student residence halls on the Gorham campus were among the first to be replaced due to student safety concerns.
A campus wide email was sent out Tuesday afternoon urging faculty, staff and students to shut down their computers, secure their personal belongings and lock up confidential records.
Caswell, who has worked for more than 30 years in the university system, said this was the first security breach of this magnitude that he could remember.
“It obviously has created a lot of safety and security concerns,” he said.
Caswell said the university is taking the burglary very seriously. The campus police force is leading the investigation with assistance from the Portland Police Department.
Caswell said Tuesday evening that it is too early to estimate how much it will cost in equipment and manpower to replace the locks, which provided access to some of the university’s most important resources.
Caswell said the stolen keys could have given someone access to the university’s Human Resources Department, the Glickman Family Library, the Sullivan Gymnasium, the law school building, Luther Bonney Hall, and the Wishcamper Center, which are all based on the Portland campus.
Security at the Costello Sports complex in Gorham and Bailey Hall on the Gorham campus could also have been compromised. Locks on several residential halls in Gorham – most of which provided entry to obscure places such as a boiler room – were quickly replaced.
Some buildings will not be affected because they are controlled through a card system, Caswell said. The school is bringing in extra staff to provide security to the buildings until the locks are changed, he said.
Caswell said it may take a couple of days before all the locks can be replaced.
Anyone with information regarding the burglary should contact the university police at 780-5211.
Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: