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School ‘swatting’ incidents lead to ‘ton of consequences’ for those phoning in threats, safety expert says

Schools in Denver, Colorado Springs, Montrose, Delta, Cedaredge, and Alamosa were targeted Monday
Posted: 4:54 PM, Sep 20, 2022
Updated: 2022-09-21 11:41:40-04
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DENVER – Dozens of schools across the nation went on lockdown – including six in Colorado just on Monday alone – following a series of “swatting” incidents that disrupted learning, added to an already heightened sense of anxiety for students and teachers alike, and panicked working parents as fake threats of possible school violence were phoned in to schools over the past week.

At least half-a-dozen schools in Colorado were targeted with unfounded threats of violence, including Denver, Colorado Springs, Montrose, Delta, Cedaredge, and Alamosa. The FBI is now working with local law enforcement to investigate the origin of those calls.

In Commerce City, a student at Adams City High School was detained by police after a gun was found at the school, underscoring the importance of responding quickly to these type of incidents, real or not.

“The threats are extremely upsetting,” said Ken Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a Cleveland-based school safety consulting firm. “Parents, students and educators are already on edge after the Ulvade (school) shooting.”

“Swatting” – the act of calling first responders with a fake emergency to coax them into sending a large police presence to a specific address – can come in large numbers and cross wide geographical areas in a short period of time, Trump said.

Such a thing occurred over the past week, he said, when unfounded threats of violence in schools were reported in Texas, California, Missouri, Florida and Virginia.

“The good news is law enforcement is much more adept at tracking down those digital footprints and eventually the threat makers are going to be caught,” Trump said.

And it’s not just going to be a slap in the wrist if a student is found to have been responsible for making that call.

“There are a ton of bricks that could fall in terms of consequences,” he said. Such consequences include suspension, expulsion from school and possible criminal prosecution with demands for restitution for the costs incurred by having law enforcement and school officials ramp up security when responding to these threats.

School ‘swatting’ incidents lead to ‘ton of consequences’ for those phoning in threats, safety expert says

While certainly disruptive for the overall learning environment, these incidents have led to schools and local law enforcement officials to test how they respond to these calls, which allows them to see what measures they have in in place, and how effective they are, Trump said.

“The bad news is those with ill intentions can also test the system to see what type of responses occur so that they could potentially plan to work around that if they actually had the intentions to cause harm,” he added.

So what can schools do improve their response and minimize the impact “swatting” calls have on the learning environment?

“Schools need to have threat assessment teams training and protocols in place so that they can hit the ground running with their first responders to evaluate these threats,” Trump said, stressing that schools need to assess and react, not the other way around, as “too many schools automatically evacuate, which could create a target-rich environment or unintended consequences… in some cases, putting kids unintentionally in greater danger and in harm's way.”

A big part of that training should also involve coming up with what Trump called a crisis communications plan – communicating with the community not just via email or through a phone call, but through social media as well so that schools can “provide factual information and reduce the ambiguity and uncertainty and stress in the school community” during these types of emergencies.

He stressed that school administrators have to investigate these “swatting” threats seriously and make sure there are consequences for the culprits. As for parents and educators, he urged them to talk with their kids so they understand that these type of calls are not a prank and will be treated seriously – not just by school officials but by law enforcement as well.

“Young people need to understand that these are not pranks, they’re not jokes – they're a cruel hoax,” Trump said. “It's causing emotional stress even more than potential physical harm, and there are going to be a ton of quick consequences that follow.”