On December 21st 2015 we published an article about bomb threats and threats of violence across two major school districts in the United States. Hundreds of thousands of students were evacuated and sent home in response to a threat, which was later deemed a hoax.
The same scenario has unfolded here in Australia over the past week, as schools in Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and South Australia have been evacuated or sent into lockdown after threatening phone calls.
Schools receiving these threats have had to enacted emergency response plans and procedures, and wait for emergency services to investigate the threats and give clearance to return.
Nick O’Brien, expert and associate professor on counter terrorism at Charles Sturt University explained that “terrorists very rarely forewarn any attacks” which means in most cases, when a person threatens a school, university, or a business directly, they do not actually intend to carry out the threat. Nevertheless, schools, universities and other businesses must have plans and procedures in place to ensure all threats are treated seriously, reported appropriately, and investigated thoroughly.
The recent series of hoax calls threatening Australian schools with bombings and shootings highlights the potential benefits of strong communication networks and rapid notifications among schools within and across states. Understanding the broader context of a situation, including potential connections between events, is important to support informed decision making. Communication and liaison between organisations – in this case schools, emergency services and media outlets – is critical to achieve this.
Victoria Police in a Facebook statement said the aim of these hoax calls is to “cause disruption and attract media attention” rather than injure or kill and that was accomplished over the past few days.
The Department of Education and Training and emergency services representatives reported that all schools enacted their emergency management plans and evacuation procedures successfully. The Principal of Keebra Park High School on the Gold Coast, which received a threat and was evacuated on Tuesday, explained in a statement on their Facebook page to parents that day, “we have an emergency management plan in place for situations like this, and we practice it throughout the year.”
This series of hoax threats demonstrates why it is necessary for organisations to ensure their emergency management plans and procedures are current, well-communicated to people who need to enact them, and rehearsed regularly.
The primary purpose of developing, reviewing and testing plans regularly, is to protect the safety and wellbeing of people when an emergency occurs. A benefit of this process is that it enables an organisation to instill confidence among its stakeholders by enacting a calm and efficient response to threats or near-misses, which may otherwise cause unnecessary disruption, panic and concern. This is especially true for situations – similar to this spate of hoax threats against schools – that attract significant attention from the public, media, regulators, governing bodies, and key stakeholder groups, for example parents in this case.
The evacuations of many schools across the nation serves as a reminder of the need and importance of carefully planned crisis management procedures. In this day and age, where the terrorism threat is high, bomb or any type of threat can no longer be viewed as a funny joke or a prank by a couple of kids. Victorian Deputy Premier James Merlino said that threats are “not just a harmless prank, this is criminal behavior that has diverted police resources and it is not acceptable”. Each threat should be taken seriously.
If these schools had not had emergency response plans in place, the bomb hoax had the potential to severely highlight holes in their procedures. Which in turn would have made it easier for more damage to occur had the threat been credible.
Briggs Communications offers specialized plans for schools, universities and businesses to get them ready for any potential threat.