False reports of school shootings, bomb threats and other threats made to schools are triggering massive police responses and heightened parental anxiety across the nation. Hoax calls known as “swatting” involve a caller makes a false report to police to draw an overwhelming response including by police SWAT team, thus the term “swatting.”
Recent incidents of such calls include:
- A school shooting false report that sent school buildings into lockdown, parents into a panic, and school officials scrambling to reassess an “antiquated” emergency notification system in the St. Marys Area School District in Pennsylvania.
- Two bomb threat calls to Fairfax County schools in Virginia resulted in school lockdowns and police sweeps of a school campus with two dog teams.
Incidents such as these, along with a steady flow of online and other school threat cases, have resulted in school evacuations, closures and extreme anxiety among parents, teachers, students and first responders.
Superintendents and principals can prepare for these types of threats by taking several basic, but often found lacking, safety measures including:
- Create a threat assessment protocol in partnership with local first responders and train your school leadership and crisis teams on threat assessment. We have a detailed page of free information on school threat assessment on our web site.
- Establish a solid crisis communications plan that includes effective use of social media and a redundancy in communications tools and messaging. Digital communications increase the trajectory of rumors, misinformation and anxiety to where parents are on-scene almost instantly when a threat spreads on social media or via texting. Media calls, even from national media, often follow quickly. School leaders must be prepared to not only manage the crisis, but to also effectively manage the communications component. Three free articles on managing school safety communications are available for download from our website.
While there are numerous other aspects of threat assessment and school safety communications we cover in our threat assessment training programs, the free information online will help provide guidance for school leaders to get started immediately on these two fundamental preparedness measures.
The importance of the communications component with school safety threat management cannot be overstated. We feel it to be so important that we have engaged veteran news media managers to conduct an evaluation of school safety crisis communications as a standard part of our school security and emergency preparedness assessment consultations. Increasingly we see schools manage the actual incidents effectively but drop the ball on the communications piece, which damages their reputation within their school community.
Clear threat assessment protocols and training, along with a solid communications plan around school safety issues, can help superintendents, principals and school boards manage what appears to be a trend of “swatting” hoax incidents sweeping our nation’s schools.
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