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Schools may take new approach on bomb threats

POSTED: November 28, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Larissa Knight presented a different way of handling bomb threats to the Effingham County Board of Education.

Knight recently attended training, hosted by RESA, with Georgia Bureau of Investigation officials leading the training.

“They have presented a way of addressing bomb threats within a school system that is a notable deviation from the way we have addressed bomb threats in the past,” she said. “Typically the call comes in that there is a bomb threat for a school, and the children are gathered up (and) evacuated to the football field. The law enforcement personnel arrive with the dogs, they search the school and when they give us the ‘all clear,’ we go back in.”

She said the recommendations are to not evacuate every time there is a threat, but to evacuate when administrators are not comfortable or see something suspicious. Officials should always check the evacuation route, evacuation area and wait for law enforcement before evacuating children from the building.

Knight said after looking at the down time for students, the loss in productivity and how many times a bomb is found, there is a new approach being suggested.

“The biggest thing they said was as soon as you get the bomb threat call the authorities, which is what we do already, and they said don’t immediately evacuate,” she said. “They actually expect you to do a bomb threat assessment first.”

Knight said the threats disrupt instruction and productivity, and it is a something the board will have to consider the way bomb threats will be handled.

Board chairperson James Dasher said the board takes all threats seriously.

“We don’t look at it as a prank or a joke. If they’re caught, they will be punished to the fullest extent,” he said.

Knight said faculty members should search the facility quickly, and trainers also recommend teachers and faculty doing a quick search for anything suspicious in their classrooms and other parts of the building in the morning.

“As a former teacher, I could tell you if something in my classroom was moved,” she said, “if someone had messed with my plants, or if someone had borrowed anything off my desk. Teachers can very quickly tell you what’s out of line in their classroom. A morning walkthrough in the kitchen, the ladies in the kitchen know what’s supposed to be there and what’s not. Just every morning, less than five minutes, you just walk through your area as part of your daily routine.”

She said if a threat is received a quick walkthrough is done and reports are sent to the main office, clearing areas if there is nothing suspicious.

All the areas would be searched by faculty members familiar with them — coaches would search the gym, media specialists would search the library and maintenance personnel would search the common areas.

“They suggested we search every time,” Knight said. “Obviously if you see a bomb or some kind of explosive devise you evacuate the school right then. They tell you to wait until the law enforcement people get there to evacuate, and they want the law enforcement people to be in the evacuation area and to provide coverage for the children.

“They said many times when a bomb threat comes in, the threat has been made by a perpetrator who’s wanting to get the children out of the building to an unsafe area,” she said. “Sometimes there’s been an active shooter (who) can shoot the children.”

Knight said the GBI recommended not having cars parked close to the building and that all evacuation routes are searched before children are led out of the building.

“Don’t overlook the parking lot when you’re searching,” she said. “Somebody needs to go out there and glance, ‘is there a van parked close to the gym that’s not normally there?’”

She said it is also important to be cautious of having set patterns when a bomb threat is received. Training session attendees were urged to have as many as three places to take students and to rotate the use of those areas. School officials also need to consider the weather and the time of day bomb threat evacuations.

“If it’s close to the end of the school day, they recommend going ahead and sending the children home,” Knight said.
Knight said not to evacuate due to a call but when there is a suspicious device, and administrators should look for indicators that would credit or discredit the threat.

“Is testing going on? A lot of times bomb threats come in when there’s testing,” she said.

If there are any problems faculty members are encountering that could be a factor or disgruntled parents should be taken into consideration.

“Look for suspicious packages, a suspicious person in the building,” Knight warned. “Sometimes our schools are fairly easy to get into, and we like that we like having parents coming in and staying in touch with people in the community. Have you seen someone suspicious around the building, was someone spotted running across the football field? Look for signs of forced entry, or previous threats.”

There were additional evacuation considerations that Knight explained to the board.

“Students should be evacuated a minimum of 1,000 feet away from the facility,” she said. “If that’s not possible, we need to have some kind of shielding they can get behind. Most injuries to students occurred during the evacuation — they’re injured along the route, or their evacuation area, or they’re evacuated to an active shooter.”

“Sometimes things trigger an evacuation to bring students to the shooter,” she said. “He said that 90 percent of the time, if someone called, there is no bomb. It’s just a prank or for power or control. According to the FBI and the (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) nearly all bomb threats are false. That’s highly unusual. Do not evacuate until you have law enforcement there for security and coverage.”

Superintendent Randy Shearouse said he wanted Knight to address the board because the personnel involved in safety planning have been going to training and learning about this method, and he wanted to the board to know about it.

“We want to do the best job we can do to keep our kids safe,” he said. “We want to schedule a time with GBI to come talk about bomb threats so we can take whatever steps we need to take.”

Board member Troy Alford asked if it is up to the principal if students are dismissed early in the event of a bomb threat close to the end of the day.

“You could imagine what the risk would be if you go home too early — people are going to call in a bomb threat to go home,” Shearouse said.

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