Bomb threats are plastered all over both local and national news media outlets on a daily basis. Most of which are relating to terrorist invading the United States as we saw on 9/11/2001 with the Twin Towers. However, the data/statistics on bomb threats are narrow when it comes to other aspects. The FBI states that approximately 5% of bombing incidents across the country were directed towards schools. From January 1990 to February 28, 2002, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) recorded 1,055 incidents of bombs being planted on school premises.
We are unsure how many of these events involved actual threats. However, it is reasonable to ascertain that bombing incident’s involving real bombs in schools are substantially rare. Furthermore, very few bomb explosions are advertised with a warning or threat to police officers in advance. Of the 1,055 bomb incidents in schools reported by ATF, only 14 were accompanied by a warning to the school or police.
The FBI and Bomb Threats
The FBI considers the most pressing domestic terrorism threats to be homegrown violent extremists radicalized by ISIS and other radical Islamist groups, as well as lone wolf attackers who are not associated to any other actors or groups. Cultists, “sovereign citizens” who do not believe government constraints apply to them and those motivated by racial animus are a lesser but persistent concern, according to the bureau.
There are not many listed national statistics on bomb threats. However, bomb threats are a more common occurrence than actual bomb incidents. For example, in 1997, a Maryland school district reported 150 bomb threats and 55 associated arrests. The South Carolina Department of Education in its 1999-2000 school incident crime report listed “disturbing schools,” which includes bomb threats, hoaxes, false fire alarms, etc. There among its 10 top crimes, bomb threats ranked second to simple assaults.
Over the past decade, many states have since authorized severe penalties for issuing false bomb threats. These enforced penalties suggest that the incidence of bomb threats is widespread across our nation. These penalties set by criminal statutes typically dictate severe consequences. For example, Massachusetts provides sentences up to 20 years in prison, also up to $50,000 fine, and restitution fees for the costs of the disruption caused by the threat. Whereas in New York law it is considered a “Class E Felony” to issue a fake bomb threat directed toward any school in New York State.
How do Bomb Threats Impact the Victims?
The occurrence of bomb incidents or threats can have a significant impact on the targeted victims depending on how the victim responds to the threat. The potential for severe injury and damage makes even an empty bomb threat a serious event. Furthermore, roughly 90% of bomb threats in school turn out to be fake. However, each threat must be taken seriously and acted upon immediately.
Evacuations cause significant disruption, which may be an appealing outcome from the assailant’s point of view. Moreover, the price for bomb threats cost school districts over $250,000 because of school closings and the costs of bomb search squads.
Finally, the publicity that surrounds these appalling acts of targeted violence in schools affects all communities across the United States. The fear of targeted violence in schools far outweighs the actual risks. However, responding to bomb threats is extremely difficult for school authorities that may be hesitant to reveal the occurrence of every single bomb threat that occurs. Mainly if there is strong indication that the risk is false, school authorities do not want to raise additional concern.
About Bomb Threats
There are many assumed motives for bomb threats. Researchers suggest that humor, self-assertion, anger, manipulation, aggression, hate, psychotic distortion, ideology, and retaliation are among the top. However, the research on motives is preferably limited to other kinds of violence. Therefore, any insinuation of the reasons to those who impose bomb threats must remain unsubstantiated.
Bomb threats are delivered in numerous ways. Sometimes bomb threats are initiated by a handwritten letter, face-to-face interaction, email, on a social media website, or even a non-verbal gesture. However, the most common means of initiating a bomb threat is by anonymous calls.
In theory, anonymous calls should be easy to prevent. However, unlike the internet, the telephone network is a closed system. The telephone network has a static infrastructure with no anonymity networks like Tor to conceal where a call is originating. All phone numbers are directly provisioned by a select few companies, all with close relationships with law enforcement. However, despite the best efforts of authorities, anonymous calling services have continued to flourish in the US. These anonymous calling services enable anything from simple bomb threats or swatting attacks.
The reason anonymous bomb threats are easy to carry out is two-fold: digital attacks and unsecured phone systems. As businesses have moved from copper lines to IP-based phone systems, they have created a new threat called PBX hacking, in which criminals can compromise systems remotely. Scanning the internet for vulnerable operating systems is easy.
It is a known fact that there is no shortage of small businesses relying on poorly managed installations of freeware setups like Freeswitch. Hackers can then use their unmonitored access to run up big phone bills on their victim’s behalf. More savvy criminals will also “rent out” exposed networks as a way to make anonymous terrorist phone calls, like using a stolen car as a getaway vehicle.
How Seriously should Bomb Threats be Taken?
The seriousness of a bomb threat is self-evident because of the potential for widespread destruction that can be caused by an explosive device. Whereas, other weapons such as guns are aimed towards specific targets. Moreover, even though 90% of bomb threats are hoaxes (either there is no bomb, or the “explosive device” is fake), how seriously should the threat be taken? Since the magnitude of disruption caused by bomb threats is considerable, all such threats should be responded to on the belief that a real bomb exists.
The law states that the United States tends to treat false bomb threats almost as severely as real bomb threats. The U.S. law also tends to make very few exceptions for juvenile offenders that initiate a bomb threat.
Making false bomb threats is a federal offense punishable by a penalty of up to 10 years in prison, $250,000 fine, or both. This penalty also applies to juvenile offenders. However, the majority of juveniles tend to be prosecuted under both local and state laws, which continuously provides more severe penalties.
Specificity of Bomb Threats
In general, the uniqueness of the bomb threat is the best judge of its seriousness. The specificity of a bomb threat may include the following according to a widely held view among experts. However, no formal research study affirms or negates these views:
The place and time indicated in the threat,
The description of the bomb to be used,
Any specific targets mentioned or reported, and
The reason presented or implied in the bomb threat.
Types of bomb threats in schools
Understanding the factors that contribute to bomb threats in schools will help administrators and law enforcement determine proper effective safety methodologies, recognize key intervention points, and select appropriate responses. Sadly, there is not any research that directly targets the causes of bomb threats in U.S. schools. There is, however, a small amount of research that examines how threats of different degrees emerge in schools and the settings in which they appear. The most significant portion of this research is directed towards developing two types of responses:
(1) An intervention plan aimed at the prevention of threats and reducing their impact if carried out.
(2) An incident response protocol if an actual bomb threat or incident occurs.
All of the research in which these two responses are based is focused on threat assessment. Threat assessment is a safety protocol developed by the U. S. Secret Service to identify quickly persons who may be most likely to attack the President and other individuals the Secret Service is responsible for protecting.
Factors Contributing to Bomb Threats in Schools
The methodology used in these case studies have been to collect detailed information concerning the circumstances that prevailed before and after significant cases of targeted violence, including shootings and bombings. This information is then analyzed for any patterns that may imply those circumstances seemed to contribute to targeted violence. The Secret Service applied this methodology to 37 cases of targeted violence in schools. They collected data on the personal and background characteristics of the offenders. The Secret Service also analyzed the offender’s behavior before the violent act occurred.
Based on the studies of the Secret Service, four factors contribute to bomb threats. These factors interact in contrary ways in different situations: There is no profile or single ‘type’ of a perpetrator of targeted violence. Instead, violence is seen as the product of interaction among the perpetrator, situation, target, and the setting”.
The Types of Offenders in Bomb Threat Incidents
The Secret Service’s study of incidents of targeted violence in schools concluded the following:
- The attacks were seldom impulsive; 75 percent planned the attack.
- The attacks were the result of a series of events that seemed logical and inevitable to the attacker.
- Often the planning of the bomb attack consumed the attacker’s attention to the point of obsession.
- Most held an injustice at the time of the attack.
- Most of the attackers had told a peer that “the attack would happen.”
While there have been suggestions that bombers have specific types of personality traits (obsessive-compulsive, psychopathic), there is very little scientific evidence to support this claim. Finally, the vast majority of threats are called in by students, though there are occasional cases of threats by teachers.
Family Background History
No research has definitively, or even roughly, identified a constellation of factors that cause an individual to issue a bomb threat. However, the general literature of law enforcement and school authorities have identified several possible factors. This does not mean that one or even several of these factors necessarily lead to bomb-threatening behavior:
- The family moves frequently;
- The lack of intimacy in the home;
- Parental acceptance of pathological behavior;
- Parents set no boundaries on child’s behavior;
- Having a history of violence/abuse in the home;
- Easy access to weapons, use of threats of violence;
- Excessive TV watching, violent video games permitted;
- No supervision of social interests, including drugs, alcohol use, and gang activity.
A school atmosphere that is insensitive to actions of violence (such as bullying, harassment, lack of respect for other students or teachers, gang activity, etc.) may be a higher risk to be a target of bomb threats. Also, a school that lacks essential prevention programs against attackers (such as monitoring entry and exit to the school, surveillance, training of teachers to deal with violence, and a systematic method for identifying and reporting warning signs), may be more likely to receive bomb threats.
Harsh imposition of authority by a school that relies entirely on fear has been associated with violence against teachers. This heavy rule tactic may also result in a student’s unwillingness to come forward to communicate potential problems of violence including his or her personal victimization.
Making a bomb is easily within the ability of teenagers and young adults. In fact, ATF reports that the success rate of bomb detonations in schools is slightly higher than the national rate of all bombings. Information on how to construct bombs is readily available on the Internet and is widely available in books such as The Anarchist Cookbook.
Many of the recipes for making bombs use common everyday chemicals. However, no information on constructing bombs is needed if they plan to issue a false bomb threat.
Concealment is also not difficult. Although bombs may be concealed in an incredible variety of containers—from fire extinguishers to pens and letters— most bombs are of the simple pipe bomb form that is concealed in an ordinary-looking bag or some everyday object.
Bomb threats have often been called in via pay phones which reduced the likelihood that police could locate the individual placing the call.