Hoax threats can be scary, too.
Should we be worried? At this time the experts conclude that the series of incidents referencing threats against schools, Jewish facilities and businesses likely do not represent a credible terrorist threat for two reasons:
- terrorists’ rarely provide operational insight into their planning, and
- the fact that nearly all hoaxes in the United States are conducted by criminal actors or those instigating a nuisance prank.
Due to the common occurrence of bomb threats across the country over the last few years, the experts judge malicious terrorism hoaxes such as bogus emails and phoned-in threats, including robo-calls, will almost certainly continue, diverting resources as they create disturbances and send false alarms. However, don’t become blasé. Someone might take advantage of the hoaxes to accomplish a real attack.
What should we be doing? Consider these incidents to be a teaching moment. How would your organization handle such threats.
- Know what you should do. Have a bomb threat plan before an incident happens. For starters, check out DHS’ Bomb Threat Guidance and Introduction to Bomb Threat Management. Add JCRC-NY’s post, Manhattan bomb threat: lessons learned to your reading list. Now is a good time to review, or to think through your own plans. Our own Emergency Planning: Disaster and Crisis Response Systems for Jewish Organizations has a longer chapter discussing the issue.
- Train your phone answerers. Everyone answering the phone (including those who might answer) should be taught how to handle a phone threat with this checklist. Have copies of the bomb threat checklist posted nearby.
- You have to communicate.
- First things first. Call 911. Bring in the cavalry…ASAP. Whether you think the incident is real or a hoax, contact the experts and defer to them. Have a system (with primary and backup callers) that ensures that someone calls 911 immediately. Remember, don’t use a cell phone or walkie-talkie in the area of a suspicious package … you might set it off. Get to your landline.
- Get the word out. Even if your people know what to do (i.e., you’ve conducted bomb scare drills) you have to let them know that they have to do it. Does your building have a public address system? Do you have cell phone numbers for all of your staff so that you can text them with updates? Can you modify your fire alarm system so that it sounds a distinctive signal for a bomb scare?
- Let your constituencies know what’s happening. Bomb scares create angst and the possibility of physical danger, but there is the potential for risk to your reputation. No one wants a parent to learn about an incident from the media. Have pre-written messages ready for distribution directly to your constituencies (e.g., by text) stressing the steps you’ve taken and that everyone is safe. Have a point of assembly where worried parents can go for additional information from your best staffers. Work with the police to direct people to the appropriate areas. Do not post specifics on social media. Click here for resources on crisis communication.
- Decisions, decisions. Have someone in charge (and a backup). OK, you receive a threat, now what? Certainly, dial 911, but should you evacuate or not (might someone use a bomb threat in order to trigger an evacuation setting up an active shooter or vehicle ramming?)? In reality there is no perfect answer to this question. Someone has to give the order and there will be no time to waste.
- Know where to go. If you decide to evacuate out of an abundance of caution you probably don’t want to stand in the street, especially if the weather is bad. Do you have an agreement with a neighboring institution that allows you to bring people into their facility. By doing so you can keep your people warm and dry and out of harms way.
- Keep unused parts of your building locked. It’s good practice to have your staff check your facilities daily, looking for something that “Just Doesn’t Look Right”. As they move through the rooms they should lock the doors. Closets and other storage areas should be kept locked. If you develop such procedures and do receive a bomb threat, the bomb sweep of your building can be accomplished faster.
- Consult your leadership about security plans. There will always be Monday morning quarterbacks, but a review of your plans at the Board level should empower those making difficult decisions under duress. As they say, “once is not enough.” Revisit security planning and procedures on a regular basis.
How can we know if the threat is real? The intelligence firm, Stratfor, recently published an article: How to distinguish a bomb threat from a bomb warning. The experts suggest some other possible indicators of a hoax:
- Most genuine bombers wouldn’t specify the exact timing and target of an attack (since providing that information would jeopardize the success of an event);
- Most genuine bombers wouldn’t use threats with complex scenarios involving chemical weapons or other advanced capabilities, or cite geographically dispersed targets; and
- Most genuine bombers wouldn’t use threats involving large numbers of operatives.
Remember, there are no guarantees in security. You will have to weigh the options and make the best decisions possible. If you’ve thought about the options and have made decisions ahead of time, the odds of making the right decision increase dramatically.