Evaluating & Managing Anonymous School Threats

Evaluating and Managing Anonymous School Threats

This past Monday across the United States there was an array of anonymous school threats, including messaging indicating that school bombings or other types of school violence would occur. Thousands of students were evacuated from their schools, and in a number of cases, schools were closed. We have seen a series of these situations in the United States over the past three years. We are also seeing these in our work in other countries. During our recent project in India, thousands of students were evacuated from numerous schools in the suburbs of New Delhi after three students called in a series of anonymous school threats from a classroom using a watch with a SIM card.

During our assessment visits to schools in Trinidad-Tobago a few months ago, we found that there had been similar incidents there as well. In one case, military personnel provided security for a high school after anonymous threats of violence were communicated.

The recent events of the greatest concern in the U.S. have involved coordinated anonymous school threats against multiple school districts in various regions on the same day. Threats similar to those made against New York City Schools were communicated to the Los Angeles Unified Public School System on the same day. As you may recall, the LAUSD decided to close all of its schools for the day. Monday’s threats appeared to involve an even greater number of threats than past incidents.

With the increase in terrorist activities in Europe and the United States combined with repeated warnings by FBI Director James Comey about significant limitations in our ability to monitor persons of concern for terrorism involvement, we have clear indications of an elevated risk of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Recent polls show that Americans are very concerned about the potential for terrorist attacks. These factors in turn make it easier for individuals and organizations to exploit fear through anonymous threats of violence involving schools. Though the school year is coming to an end in most areas of the country soon, we anticipate more problems of this type will recur next school year.

Here are a three potential action steps that school and public safety officials may wish to consider implementing over the summer to prepare for threats of violence, including anonymous school threats:


  1. Work with local or state emergency management/homeland security officials to run a series of short tabletop scenarios where a multi-disciplinary team has to review and quickly develop a response plan for each scenario. With proper structuring, a team could run through 6-12 scenarios in a few hours. By running the scenarios in a short time frame, school and public safety personnel can practice working together in real-time fashion to make decisions with limited time and information just as they will often have to do if they receive anonymous threats. Security Director Guy Grace and his district’s crisis team have been running different anonymous threat scenarios several times each year to practice for these challenging situations.
  2. Consider developing improved surge capacity for security and police personnel and increased security posture on short notice. This can afford school officials increased options that may allow them to keep schools open when threats are received.
  3. School officials should consider meeting with local, state and federal law enforcement officials to see if there are any opportunities to improve the speed and quality of information sharing relating to investigations once a threat has been received. This type of collaboration can be the difference between suspects being identified and prosecuted or not.

There are other ways to address these increasingly problematic situations, but these three action steps can improve the ability of school and public safety officials to respond to anonymous threat of school violence.

For additional information on bomb threat management, which can be applied to anonymous school threats as well, please check out Bomb Threat Basics at:


See Something, Say Something

School Terror?

A man in Zion, IL was shot and killed by police after a foot chase and a struggle with police.  The police were called to a school because a man was reportedly photographing the school.  Several nearby schools went into lockdown during the incident.

With everything going on around the world, the Paris attacks, the San Bernardino attack, and a new attempted attack in Paris, it is easy to conclude that this was part of a terror plot.  It is much too soon to make that conclusion, but it serves as a cautionary tale.

Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security is frequently telling people, “If you see something, say something.” The incident in Zion, IL is a perfect example of how this works.  Taking pictures of a school is not an illegal act.  However, someone in the neighborhood thought that the way the man was acting, along with the focus of his pictures, was enough to call the police to check him out.

Too often people will think something is odd, and do nothing.  Gavin de Becker, in his excellent book The Gift of Fear, outlines why we do this, and provides useful techniques for training ourselves to get back to trusting our instincts.

People will often not say something out of fear of being wrong.  School administration should empower their staff to report suspicious activity, to activate any safety protocol, and to take personal responsibility for the safety of their students and their school.  If their suspicious are unfounded, there should be no repercussions.  Look at it as a practice for your safety protocols.

see something, say something

The November 2015 issue of School Safety Monthly is on school terrorism

Most states have mandatory reporting laws when a school staff member suspects a child is being abused.  The staff member who sees signs of abuse must report it to the agency tasked with looking into the suspicions.  Are there any repercussions for a staff member whose suspicions are unfounded?  This is no different.  If we are truly about the safety of our children, then we owe it to them to check out our suspicions

If you see something, say something.


School Terrorism Web Courses

Coming Soon – School Terrorism Web Courses

Photograph taken during filming of the first 30 seconds, weapon scenarios. - See more at: http://safehavensinternational.org

Photograph taken during filming of the first 30 seconds, weapon scenarios. – See more at: http://safehavensinternational.org

Safe Havens Analysts Authoring School Terrorism Web Courses

Last year, Safe Havens agreed to author a series of web courses on terrorism prevention and preparedness for Scenario Learning Incorporated.  Safe Havens analysts have authored a number of school safety web courses for Scenario Learning, including the six recently released active shooter web courses for K12, colleges, and work places.  We have also authored an active shooter course for students at institutions of higher learning.


Comprehensive Topical Coverage

Scenario Learning now offers more than 300 courses for the K12 sector and adds new course offerings each year.  Scheduled for draft completion in January 2016 the six new terrorism prevention and preparedness courses are based on the book Innocent Targets When Terrorism Comes to School, which is now in its eight print run, as well as our experience working with schools in terrorism prone regions such as Nigeria and Kenya.  In light of the recent series of terrorist attacks and thwarted attacks globally, Safe Havens and Scenario Learning will be completing the courses well ahead of the original publication date.  We had discussed and planned for this possibility more than six months ago.

School Terrorism Web Courses Authoring and Editing

Safe Havens is honored to be selected to author these School Terrorism Web courses which are sadly now very timely. Feedback from our clients and from insurance carriers about Scenario Learning has been excellent.  The short time format of the awareness level courses, combined with excellent tracking capability, low cost, ability for school officials to create custom web courses and features that allow school officials to document the distribution of critical policies and crisis plan components, have been very popular with dozens of our clients.   Our authoring team has been working closely with the Scenario Learning Companies editorial team to produce accurate, concise, actionable and informative courses on these relevant topics.


Full Disclosure

Safe Havens does not receive any form of royalties; our analysts author courses for Scenario Learning for a one-time nominal fee.   While our analysts can generate far more revenue through other forms of service delivery, we have found the approach utilized by Scenario Learning Incorporated to be highly practical for our clients.  Safe Havens never accepts any form of monetary compensation for recommending any product or service.