Four Ways to Masterfully Manage Fake Threats of School Violence

Fake threats blog

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By Mindy Michaels, Raptor Marketing Campaign Manager 

An unfortunate repercussion of tragic school shootings are those mentally unstable individuals who seek attention by planning and acting out a fake incident. Recent reports of fake active shooters and other school violence have swept through school districts nationwide. While the incidents have thankfully been proven false, they have thoroughly disrupted the daily routines of these schools and have wreaked havoc with the mental state of students, staff, parents, and entire communities. School leaders everywhere need to be aware of this latest form of hoax called swatting and should make plans to confidently manage and recover from a swatting incident should it occur at your school or district. 

While the initial response to a swatting hoax will look very much like a response to a real, more serious threat, there are some specific steps to help prepare and respond to this swatting incident. 

One: Communicate School Emergency Plans Proactively

Now more than ever, it is critical for schools to communicate with their entire community the details of a comprehensive Emergency Operation Plan (EOP). This includes emergency safety drills, response mechanisms, lockdown protocol and reunification plans. While including this information in routine back-to-school materials or open house presentations is a best practice, under the circumstances, it is worth drafting a special message to everyone about the recent swatting events and plans to prepare for them should one occur. The intended outcome is to assure students, staff, and families that school administrators are aware of the incidents, that they still intend to take every threat seriously, and to remind families how they will communicate with them should an incident – real or fake – occur. With reports of parents rushing to schools when lockdowns occur, schools and law enforcement have an added element to consider when responding to a threat. While this type of proactive communication may not eradicate fears, it may help with the intensity of parental and community response to appear at the scene in question. 

Two: Update Your School's Emergency Operations Plan

Review your emergency plan for communication protocols that address all phases of an emergency–prevention, preparation, response, and recovery. This includes the aforementioned proactive communication efforts. Additionally, consider developing and documenting fake threat protocol. While immediate response is the same until determined false, there are still recovery aspects that should be considered for fake reports that result in the school enacting a lockdown.

Questions to consider and answer might include:

What steps are taken to determine if the threat is valid or false?

How will communication be handled in-house, districtwide, with first responders, families, media, and the community at-large, during and after a fake threat?

What types of recovery and debrief activities should we conduct if a lockdown or other significant schoolwide response is enacted?

Three: Provide Support Resources

Even if it is learned that the incident is swatting, the mind and body of all involved still engage with the incident and experience the same anxiety, fear, and trauma as if it were real. Furthermore, learning that it wasn’t real can have an impact mentally and emotionally as well as undermining the trust in the validity of future emergency alerts in those who experience the incident. Consider providing support resources following a falsely reported incident. Students with disabilities, English-language learners, and students with a history of trauma or violence may be particularly vulnerable in processing the incident.

Four: Debrief & Learn from It

Debrief with teachers and staff and adjust your emergency plan. Listen to their experiences–good and bad–regarding everything from your physical security and building access to the use of your communications technology and alerting software. 

Raise the concern about possible “cry wolf” reactions to future emergencies and recommit to vigilance towards future threats. Debriefing also allows for staff to share their emotions and mindset as well as share what they are witnessing in their students post-event. Acknowledge what went well. 

Furthermore, students who experienced the lockdown and school safety protocols can also benefit from an opportunity to communicate and process their experiences, review what went well and share ideas for opportunities to improve emergency preparedness and response. 

Related Resources

Guide to K-12 Emergency Management
Proven Strategies to Protect Your School
Learn More

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