School threats are a fast growing problem and they are on the rise.
National School Safety and Security Services, an Ohio-based consulting firm, registered 812 threats against schools across the country between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31 of 2014. The threats, 70% of which were directed at high schools, resulted in 320 arrests.
“School threats are a fast growing problem. They send fear and panic through a community,” says Ken Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services.
Trump says that he reviewed 812 school threats across the country, from August 1 to December 31, 2014 – the first half of this school year. Based on available data, threats are up 158% since last year, when he says he did the first survey of this kind. This rapid escalation of school threats requires urgent attention, he says.
"It appears no school is immune," Trump says. “Threats are flying in 46 states. Here are the top ten, getting the lion’s share of threats (55%).”
- CA: 60
- PA: 55
- NY: 4
- FL: 4
- TX: 41
- MI: 3
- WA: 3
- MA: 3
- CT: 29
Bomb and shooting threats make up the majority, and that is where school administrators and police should focus their preparations and planning, Trump says.
- Bomb: 359 44
- Shooting: 234 29
- Death: 26 3%
- Knife: 9 1%
- Hit List: 6 7%
- Unspecified: 214 26%
“We found that electronic devices and social media apps are fueling the growth of these threats, especially with new, anonymous apps that young people are rapidly adopting. 299 threats (37%) were sent electronically, using social media, email, text messaging and other online resources. Social media threats, alone, account for 231 threats (28%). Threats are often posted on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram,” Trump says.
“Trendy apps like Yik Yak, After School and Whisper are creating special problems for investigators because teens can post anonymously, making it harder to track down offenders. These apps account for 45 threats across the country so far this school year,” according to Trump.
There were seven references to “swatting,” a growing phenomenon of calls triggering massive police responses for hoax threats. Several cases crossed state and international borders, according to Trump.
While high schools received 70% of threats, middle schools got 18%, and elementary schools got 10%. This is concerning, especially in light of Sandy Hook, according to Trump.
“Six percent of threats were leveled at entire school districts, sending thousands of children home or putting them in lock-down or lock-in status inside their classrooms. Clearly, schools must plan for system-wide response and threat assessment at every level,” according to Trump.
“We also found the incidents were evenly spread across all five school days, dispelling the myth that more threats are delivered on Fridays so kids can get out of school for a long weekend,” according to Trump.
Almost 30% of the threats involved schools being evacuated and nearly 10% closed school for at least the day of the threat, Trump says. Threats are causing a substantial disruption of learning and school activities. Improved threat assessment and crisis communications preparedness can help school administrators avoid premature evacuations and unnecessary closings so learning may continue when hoax threats strike a school.
“While local law enforcement officials were involved in the vast majority of these incidents, we found an emerging presence of federal law enforcement involved in school threat incident investigations. Almost 40 incidents (5%) referenced federal investigative agencies with the majority of them being the FBI,” Trump says.
“School leaders are not powerless,” says Trump. “Threats are manageable and preventable. Schools, police and parents need critical strategies that can help keep children and educators safer, and parents calmer.”
- Teachers and administrators need to create a trusting and connected school climate that will give them an early warning when rumors get started.
- Educators and parents have to understand how kids use social media, and educate them about the harm that threats can cause.
- School officials and police should use threat assessment protocols to determine if a threat is credible. This will reduce unnecessary evacuations and closings.
- Solid crisis communication plans that give parents real-time information can greatly reduce anxiety, and get schools and parents working together. School districts should survey their parents to find out which communication channels they use and meet them there.
- Communities need an easy way for kids, parents and schools to report threats and safety concerns using the latest electronic tools.