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Bomb Threats and the Case Against Immediate Evacuation

​​​Brad Spicer​​

Session Spotlight Graphic Brad Spicer.pngBomb threats are far more like promises than contracts.  They are made to obtain desired responses; which are typically anxiety and disruption of operations.  Despite public perception, the best immediate response to a bomb threat is rarely evacuation. The best response requires an understanding of bomb threats, an assessment of the situation, which may include a search, and sound crisis communications. 

Per the United States Bomb Data Center's 2016 Explosives; Incident Report, there were15,943 explosives related incidents.  This includes 1,537 bomb threats and 699 actual explosions. None of the 1,537 bomb threats are believed to have resulted in an explosion and research indicates that none of the 699 explosions were preceded by a bomb threat, and the vast majority of these devices were placed outside.   When it comes to bomb threats, perception is not reality.

While there is little-to-no correlation between a bomb threat and an actual bombing, no bomb threat should be ignored and an assessment should be conducted.  However, immediate evacuation is rarely the safest course of action.  When conducting as assessment, you are assessing the situation and facts surrounding the threat, not simply confirming if a threat was made. The goal of a bomb threat assessment is not to determine if someone made a threat.  The goal is to determine if someone (or something) poses a threat. 

To accomplish this, anxiety must be removed from the analysis. As Gavin De Becker points out in his New York Times bestselling "The Gift of Fear", threats are more like a promise than a guarantee. Threats are dispatched to gain a desired response. Threats do not state fact or even intention. If someone wants to target your facility with a bomb, it is highly unlikely they will communicate a threat.

Leaders accept that evacuation could actually increase risk, but worry the public may not understand the rationale behind not immediately evacuating. Altering the public's perception on bomb threat response requires effective communication before, during, and after a bomb threat.  When active communications are required after a bomb threat, there are just four things your stakeholders, the public, and the media want to know.

  1. What happened?
  2. What have you done?
  3. What are doing next?
  4. How can people help?

Understanding the nature of bomb threats, being aware of recent salient events, and knowing your organization's security framework are all vital components of preparing for a bomb threat.  Imagine an emergency, like a bomb threat, and place it as an "X" on a time-line.  Everything after "X" is response and everything before "X' is your opportunity to prepare.  I hope you will join me at ASIS 2017 on September 27th at 11:00 AM and explore ways to help your organization get before "X."

Questions? Have your own experiences? Drop us a line on LinkedIn, Facebook, or @safeplans on Twitter.​

This session is taught in collaboration with Jennifer Hesterman​​.

View this session in the show planner.​​