How to Handle a Bomb Threat
Whether it's an anonymous phone call, a suspicious package or a cryptic note, the clock is ticking. Here's what to do before and during a bomb threat.
December 11, 2007 — CSO —
The director of security at a manufacturing plant finds a suspicious package lying in the middle of a break area. The management office at a large shopping mall receives a phone call that a bomb has been planted somewhere in the five-acre facility. A hotel employee discovers a note taped to a guest room door indicating that there’s a bomb inside.
Is the device a fake? The call a hoax? Or is it a terrorist plot? Reliable statistics specific to bomb threats are hard to come by. Anecdotal evidence suggests that any given threat is most likely benign, but with hundreds or even thousands of lives at stake, organizations can’t afford to take chances.
And while empty threats don’t harm victims, the mere utterance damages perceptions of management’s ability to provide for a safe workplace.
“Most bomb threats are hoaxes,” says Roy Bordes, president and CEO of security consulting firm The Bordes Group in Orlando, Fla. The culprits often turn out to be disgruntled employees, unsatisfied customers, a jilted boyfriend or girlfriend, pranksters or students looking to skip school.
What’s more, serious bombers today rarely call in threats before detonating a device. While the Irish Republican Army often warned its targets about pending attacks, “that’s not consistent with the current wrath of terrorists,” says Jon Lusher, principal consultant at IPC International, a security firm specializing in shopping center public safety, based in Bannockburn, Ill. “They seem to be more interested in doing the damage than in warning of it. Often, they don’t even take credit for it. But because nobody knows the true intentions of a bomb threat or a suspicious device, we have to take every threat seriously,” he says.
Security experts offer their tips for receiving, detecting, legitimizing and acting upon a bomb threat before the police and bomb squad arrive.
1 Have a comprehensive bomb threat response plan in place.
Every building, plant and facility should have a checklist of questions and observations in place for receiving a bomb threat and contacting authorities, a plan for searching the building, a designated route to evacuate workers and guests and a procedure for searching evacuation routes and the holding area.
These procedures should be practiced through simulated drills twice each year “just so everyone knows how to react,” Bordes says.
2 Educate call takers and provide a checklist.
With automated directories at the front line of most companies’ phone systems and direct-dial access to anyone in the facility, a bomb threat could land on just about anyone’s desk. All employees should have a bomb threat checklist on hand.