Webinar Follow Up: School Bomb Threat Q&A

After hosting a webinar on bomb threat protocols in schools, Gary L. Sigrist answered audience questions.

Bomb threats are an unfortunately common occurance at schools across the country.

The potential consequences of mishandling these threats make it critical for schools to develop specific policies to respond to them.

Gary L. Sigrist Jr., who retired as a school district safety director after 30 years working in education and law enforcement, hosted a webinar on school bomb threat protocols Dec. 8.

Sigrist currently serves as the CEO and president of Safeguard Risk Solutions. To review or download Sigrist’s entire presentation, go here (feel free to show this presentation to colleagues!).

Following the webinar, Sigrist reviewed audience questions submitted during his talk. Below are his responses to those questions.

The following exchanges have been edited lightly for clarity.

Question: What percentage of ACTUAL BOMBs have been preceeded by a threat of some kind?

Gary Sigrist: To my knowledge and in all of my training, there has never been mention of a threat to a school or college and a device actually found. There is an old adage, “Callers never bomb and bombers never call.” However, as we discussed in the webinar, all bomb threats are taken seriously. First responders must be notified and a threat assessment must be made.

Does a bomb threat on an April 20th or September 11th elevate the risk? Are death threats more common on those type of dates?

GS: Although we take all threats seriously, there is no indication that threats on these days are more likely to be real.

Should my policy include or exclude a statement about when an evacuation should occur or not occur?

GS: The question is not if there should a policy statement, but a procedure to follow when to evacuate the building and what happens before the evacuation. You can never say we will always evacuate or we will never evacuate. It is based on the totality of the circumstances and the level of the threat. The chart (below) will help you with your decision-making process.
bomb threat

Source: FBI

How important is it to turn off your Handie Talkie (H.T.) or any electronic devices if called to a bomb threat. Do those rules no longer apply?

GS: When I was in my first bomb training class (back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth), we were advised to turn off our portable radios when in proximity to a suspected device. In my latest class, we were told that today’s radios would not affect a bomb. However, I don’t ever want to be ‘that guy’ so I still turn off my radio and leave my cell phone off when near a suspected device.

Should staff turn off lights and appliances before leaving the building?

GS: Just as in a fire evacuation, all appliances that could cause a fire should be turned off when the building is evacuated. It is not critical that lights be turned off because of the evacuation due to the bomb threat.

Is setting off the fire alarm a risk of setting off an IED?

GS: According to fire code, the fire alarm should only be activated in the event of a fire. That being said, a fire alarm has not been shown to have any effect on an IED.

What is the best way to train for bomb threats in a school so everyone is comfortable?

GS: Develop your Bomb Threat Protocols with your first responders. Once your plan is in place, train your staff on your plan. Follow up the training with a Table Top Exercise to test your plan and your training. Once your staff is aware of your plans and have had the opportunity to put the plan in practice with an exercise they will be more comfortable.

We as law enforcement are always taught if you can see the bomb you are too close. What’s your recommendation for evacuation purposes at a school when moving large groups of people?

GS: This is why it is so important that before the evacuation takes place, the path to the reunification area and the reunification area be searched for possible devices. A five-pound pipe bomb has a blast radius of at least 1200 feet.

If we are supposed to contact the Federal Protection Service why would they not have a three digit number?  The 800 number is too difficult to remember. Besides calling 911 are we suppose to call the Federal Protection Service?  FPS?

GS: As the Incident Commander on the scene before first responders arrive, it is your responsibility to call 9-1-1. Once first responders are on the scene and you are in Unified Command, you are only responsible for the staff and students. The jurisdiction responsible for the bomb threat is responsible for contacting other agencies.

Be sure to check out all of Sigrist’s tips in the full webinar!

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