As school districts nationwide grapple with the threat of mass shootings, they are also dealing with a record number of false active shooter reports in U.S. 

Coined by the FBI, the action is called “swatting,” and it also includes false reports of mass casualties or other violence with the purpose of creating a massive law enforcement response to a particular location. 

There are several problems with this “boy-who-cried-wolf” scenario. For instance, it can threaten both the internal and external response time when a real emergency arises in the future. Plus, it could provide potentially dangerous insight into any security gaps that might be leveraged for a real attack. Furthermore, swatting can wreak havoc on the mental state of students, parents, staff and entire communities, who, if even for a brief time, experience the emotions of being in a real life-threatening situation, while completely disrupting daily routines and stretching resources. 

Managing false threats

Managing the potential for false threats is becoming more and more necessary. To protect against this growing pandemic, school leaders must update their emergency operation plans (EOPs) by addressing all phases of an emergency: prevention, preparation, response and recovery. This might include updating communication efforts and developing and documenting fake threat protocols. 

Part of addressing potential threats will require steps to determine if a threat is valid or false. In preparing, all parties should be able to answer these three questions:

  • What steps will be taken to determine if a threat is valid or false?
  • How will communication be handled in-house, districtwide, with first responders, families, media and the community during and following a fake threat?
  • What types of recovery and debrief activities should be conducted if a lockdown or other significant schoolwide response is enacted?

It’s important to note that providing support resources following a false report incident can be incredibly effective in helping everyone to process what happened, because even if it is learned that an incident is false, everyone involved can still experience the same fear, anxiety and trauma as if it were real. Unfortunately, swatting can also take a toll on the trust students and staff have in future emergency alerts. Allowing students to communicate and process their feelings and experiences is critical. 

Preparing for real risks

Equipping schools with integrated emergency management technologies — a drill management system, mobile panic alert button and reunification software — will make them better prepared to deal with incidents before they happen. By planning the preparation, response and recovery states of an emergency threat, the safety tech can enable a school to be in complete control. It can enable several components of a safety ecosystem to be in constant communication, which means users are able to set off any emergency response mechanism from one single point. Components of an ecosystem might include gun detection, IoT devices, cameras, alarms, speakers, smart boards, communication devices, fire and smoke detection, access control and more.

Mobile panic alert buttons can instantly activate the necessary emergency response. This can be an evacuation, lockdown or another action, but it will immediately alert school staff and first responders, while at the same time activating IoT devices, alarm systems and access control systems. It will also quickly send relevant information to any connected digital response device or smart board. Overall, it streamlines digital emergency response activation and notifications, which will help to mitigate a dangerous situation much more swiftly.

That’s the tip of the iceberg, though. Unfortunately, these types of situations can often not be predicted, but if staff and students are trained for the possibility of one, there is a higher likelihood of success in response to an emergency situation. Effective active-shooter training and drills are crucial, but there are some key things to consider when planning. It is essential that schools and their districts are proactively focusing on uniformity when it comes to their safety drills, not only satisfying compliance needs but creating ‘muscle memory’ in students and staff in the event of a real emergency. It should also be led by teachers while being interactive, problem-based, adaptable and developed alongside mental health professionals with school safety in mind.

Parent involvement and reunification

Emergency response plans are important in building trust between parents and their child’s school. How do they believe school leaders and staff could be more proactive in dealing with a response, or what threats are they most concerned about? This is especially important because many students and parents don’t believe their schools are prepared to address safety issues.

Should there be a real incident, it’s critical to be sure there is a successful reunification plan in place — one in which students are quickly and safely reunited with their parents or guardians. This is a piece that should also be practiced, ensuring all parties know who is part of the recovery team and what their responsibilities are, as well as where reunification sites will be located. They will also need to know protocols for confirming students are reunited with an approved guardian. Using reunification technology can streamline the process by accounting for all students and staff members and noting their location in real-time so that no one is unaccounted for.

Providing peace of mind

When school staff and leaders are transparent, utilizing emergency management technology and proper training, everyone will be better prepared to quickly identify whether a situation might be swatting or if it’s a true emergency. In the case of a real threat, it is vitally important that school emergency response plans are meticulously followed, and all available safety technology is used to ensure safety and recovery for staff, students and parents alike.