Mike Kueber's Blog

September 17, 2012

Bomb threat on campus – prank call or credible threat

Filed under: Law/justice — Mike Kueber @ 8:42 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

Stop the presses – yesterday, I drafted the following blog post about the prank calls to UND and NDSU that caused the campuses to be evacuated.  Just as I was about to post the draft, the media is reporting an evacuation at LSU.  The names have changed, but the issue is the same – i.e., why are the campuses being evacuated on the basis of a prank call?  If these prank calls continue, the college administrators will be forced to come to their (common) senses.   

Last week, on the same day, North Dakota State University and the University of Texas received bomb threats that resulted in the campuses being evacuated.  While discussing the evacuations with my son earlier today, I suggested that the evacuations would not have been ordered on the basis of a simple crank call – i.e., there must have been something that elevated the call to a “credible threat.”  My son disagreed.  He argued that a mere crank call would force a university to order an evacuation.  Because we don’t believe in gambling, we agreed to a gentleman’s bet.

Unfortunately, I have not been able to find any news reports that indicate either university received anything more than a crank call.  UT said that their caller had a Middle Eastern accent, but I don’t think that elevates a crank call to a credible threat.  UT President Bill Powers also advised that UT waited for an hour to call for the evacuation because it had that amount of time to evaluate the threat, but he failed to say what factors they considered other than admitting that the current global unrest was taken into account.  According to the Daily Texan, UT received several bomb threats a semester, but failed to report whether those other threats resulted in evacuations.

Independent from the UT and NDSU incidents, I did find an internet article that provided guidance to school administrators when confronted with a bomb threat:

  • All bomb threats must be taken seriously and carefully analyzed. The bomb report should be treated as genuine until investigated and until a search of the school has been completed. Begin your decision-making process by gathering as much information about the bomb report as possible. Factors you will be considering include:
    • Have there been national bomb incidents lately?
    • Have there been other hoaxes lately?
    • Has a hostile student been suspended recently?
    • Are there exams scheduled for today?
    • Is it senior skip day?
    • Any unexplained student unrest?
    • Any rumors circulating about a student threatening to harm others?
    • How much information did the caller provide? (You can generally get more information out of a caller when it is not a hoax.)
    • Consider the seriousness in the voice of the caller?
    • Were any specific details given?
    • Any missing chemicals?
    • Did the caller have knowledge of the design of the school?
    • Any recent break-ins? (Look for evidence of illegal entry.)
    • Did the caller give repeated warnings? This seriously escalates the degree of danger.
    • Check your surveillance tapes.
    • Large-scale bomb incidents, such as Oklahoma and the embassy building in New York received no warnings.
    • Once you have gathered the information, subjective judgement must be made regarding the degree of credibility or dependence that can be placed upon it. Trust your intuitions and experience.
    • School administrators are faced with at least five possible alternatives: 1. Conduct a low profile search of the exterior grounds and public areas of the building. 2. Conduct a comprehensive search having all staff search their work area, in addition to the grounds and public areas so the entire building is covered. 3. Search with partial evacuation. 4. Evacuate after searching or 5. Evacuate immediately.
    • Evacuating immediately is an alternative that on face value appears to be the preferred approach, however, under certain circumstances evacuating personnel may increase rather than decrease the risk of injury. Bombs are three times more likely to be planted outside buildings than inside. A bomber wishing to cause personal injuries could place a bomb in the shrubbery near an exit. Public areas inside the school are the second most frequent place devices are located. Any evacuation that requires students and staff to move through public areas such as halls, public restrooms, lobbies, parking lots, playgrounds, might increase the risk of injury during any detonation.
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