Bomb Threat Guidance
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School Safety Center

Bomb Threat Guidance

Across the country, schools are being asked to change their mindset of how they initially react to a bomb threat. This page offers guidance on how to prepare and respond to a bomb threat.

In Washington state it is “unlawful for any person to threaten to bomb or otherwise injure any public or private school building…or to communicate or repeat any information concerning such a threatened bombing or injury, knowing such information to be false and with intent to alarm the person or persons to whom the information is communicated or repeated.” (RCW 9.61.160)

Most bomb threats are received by phone, but threats also have been posted on social networking sites or delivered via other media. Bomb threats are serious until proven otherwise. If a bomb threat is received—whether a single call, robocall, handwritten note, text message, social media post, or other medium—there are several things to consider.

The perpetrator may be making a bomb threat to:

  • Stretch resources. They could be a diversion tactic to spread resources so another crime can be committed somewhere else.
  • Test initial responses. The perpetrator may want to look at who responds, how they respond, and response time.
  • Draw a target, or targets, out into the open.
  • Draw everyone to a location where it was easier to plant a bomb. (Is there an actual device or devices outside—in a car, perhaps?)
  • Simply threaten. Most of the time it’s just that—a threat. If the perpetrator wants mass casualties, he or she will not warn about a device.

Current best practices suggest that schools:

  • Handle bomb threats on a case-by-case basis in consultation with local law enforcement, and use the FBI Bomb Threat Classification Checklist.
  • Evaluate every case on its own merit. There should be no automatic evacuation unless a bomb is obvious. Staying in the school may be the best option.
  • Train staff on how to handle a bomb threat when it appears to have credibility:
    • Staff should know their assigned rooms/areas.
    • Staff should check their areas of responsibility for anything that may be out of place or suspicious.
    • Staff should not try to move or handle it.

Prepare—think “response”:

  • Work with your local law enforcement agency. Build this into your overall safety planning.
  • Work with your district PIO and prepare informational responses ahead of time. Be ready to answer questions such as “why didn’t you evacuate?” or “did you leave my child in a building where there might be a bomb?”
  • Build all of the above into your district and site-based EOP/safety planning.
    • An additional consideration: if the perpetrator is a minor student, require the family of the minor who sent the bomb threat to pay restitution costs. In some jurisdictions, districts were able to recover those costs from offenders’ families.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • We are seeing more pre-paid phone cards used to make threatening calls; they are difficult if not impossible to trace.
  • Other people may join social media conversations to cause more harm. Called trolls, they very often have little or no connection to the given situation.
  • Across the country, schools are being asked to change their mindset of how they initially react to a bomb threat.
  • It makes sense to assess and then decide rather than to evacuate and then assess.
  • It is critically important that all support agencies, both local and state, have buy-in and are communicating the same message.

Resources to help you prepare and plan:


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   Updated 3/4/2016

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