I recently read an article in Security Management (SM) magazine on the topic of bomb threats targeting schools and realized it had been some time since I received a call from a client requesting assistance responding to a bomb threat. The thought gave way to wondering if schoolplace bomb threats were such a problem, why did it seem so few bombs actually existed? A little research revealed some interesting answers. According to recent work by Dr. Amy Klinger and Amanda Klinger, Esq. on behalf of the Educator’s School Safety Network (ESSN), a national non-profit school safety organization:
“The 2015-2016 school year has seen an unprecedented increase in school-related bomb threat incidents both in the United States and throughout the world. In addition to a dramatic increase in the sheer number of threats, other unique trends have emerged that indicate a need for concern. These include the scope and frequency of the events, the delivery methods of the threats, the perpetrators of these incidents, and the atypical locations of the incidents themselves.”
Further research led me to find that the last time a bomb was found in a U.S. school (K-12) was at Columbine High School in 1999. So, I contacted the author of the piece in SM and asked if his research produced similar results. He said it had, leaving us both wondering why the increase in bomb threats but an obvious lack of bombs? The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Office for Bombing Prevention reports schoolplace bomb threats have roughly doubled over the course of the last two years. It also seems, bomb threats beget bomb threats. The Office for Bombing Prevention also notes that most bombers intending to cause human harm, don’t provide warnings. Intuitively, surprise bombings potentially create more casualties than those preceded by a warning. Yet, there have been no recent bombings on U.S. soil.
The rest of the world is not so lucky. The past several days, (December 11 and 12, 2016) was a banner weekend for bombers. According to the Wall Street Journal, terrorists struck no fewer than four cities around the world starting with a bombing in the Yemeni port of Aden where a bomber killed 48 on Saturday; a pair of homicide bombers then hit Istanbul’s Vodafone Arena killing 38; another pair of fanatics maimed 17 in Nigeria; and then on Sunday a nail-bomb was used to kill at least, 25 Coptic Christians worshipers while at church in Cairo. My research reveals that schoolplace bombings are fairly common in third world countries and in those places under siege or occupied by radical Islamists. IED’s (improvised explosive devices) are also common terror tools. Yet rarely have they been used (or found) in the U.S. When was the last time you took a dirt road or a detour off a main highway, or dropped the kids off at school and pondered the possibility of an IED or schoolplace bombing? Which leads me to two simple questions: why is America apparently so safe and what should be done to keep that way?
I have several possible answers but I would like to hear yours first. Please email me at Gene.Ferraro@ForensicPathways.com with your thoughts. I will honor requests of confidentiality. In the meantime, to find the answer to the title of this piece, What if it’s real? go to https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/dhs-bomb-threat-checklist-2014-508.pdf. Your time won’t be wasted.
December 13, 2016
First, it has been over 30 years since I was on the ATF’s Bomb Squad so my information may be outdated; however, I still stay current on this topic.
As intimated in your writing as well as your references, the number of bomb threats at secondary schools have increased. If you distilled the data as reported, you tend to see a correlation with trigger events in the school calendar. Most of the bomb threat incidences relate to exam schedules, some other academic requirement, or sporting event. In certain rare cases, the threats have been directed towards a teacher, staff member or fellow student.
An important piece to recognize is that there have not been actual bombings or explosive events at the high school level to the same degree as other countries simply because the school represents a particular value or way of life. For example, Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan and Boko Haram have focused their terroristic campaigns toward schools in order to deter young girls from being exposed to Western values.
When I investigated juvenile bombings (with ATF and my internship as a Juvenile Probation Officer), one of my experiences related to the access to the components to develop a bomb. The most common component that juveniles used for their bomb making was either a decomposed cherry bomb, M-80 or other pyrotechnic device. The juveniles that had been exposed to information as to how to develop a bomb device, the financial resources to purchase components, and the genuine desire to destroy property (as opposed to harm people) was limited. Furthermore, juveniles tended to want to bring immediate attention to themselves and in particular their act. The act of bombing tends to be secretive opposite a juvenile coming to school with that AK-47 or M-16. As such, the explosive device does not provide immediate recognition or gratification to the juvenile.
Interesting topic to discuss. I wish you luck.
Philip S. Deming, CPP, CFE, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, of Philip S. Deming and Associates, King of Prussia, PA.
December 14, 2016
As a police officer of 30 years I have responded to hundreds of bomb threats. I can recall even being a young Sheriff’s explorer and EMT when the STP family were placing bombs in and around Boulder Colorado, and in two cases, detonating those bombs accidentally prior to placement, killing and injuring the bombers. I learned early from those experiences that you treat every potential threat as a real one. Probably the most real threat to me personally was very recently when an individual named David Ansberry attempted to detonate a large IED at the Nederland Colorado Police Station. Ansberry was with the same group I previously mentioned in the 70’s who had a friend killed by a Nederland Marshal. Ansberry dwelled on that killing for almost 40 years and on October 11th 2016, he left a high explosive IED in a backpack at the police front door, the same door that I opened and closed for almost 8 years serving as a Nederland officer. My point is simply that even though 99 percent of the bomb threats I responded to were fake, several were real back in the 70s through today. It is my opinion that with the evolving technology in cellular phones and remote accessibility the threat will only grow.
Steve Davis, of Davis and Associates, Denver, CO.