Understanding Swatting Hoaxes & Fake Threats of School Violence

Swatting Hoax Blog

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By Mindy Michaels, Raptor Marketing Campaign Manager 

Schools in at least 17 states have reported swatting incidents since mid-September. While these incidents have been determined to be fake, their impacts are very real with schools enacting their lockdown protocols and local law enforcement responding as if the incident is credible, until proven otherwise.

What is a swatting hoax?

A newer kind of hoax called “swatting” as coined by the FBI, is when a false report is filed alleging active shooters, mass casualties or other violence with the purpose of creating a massive law enforcement response to a particular location.

Who is behind the fake threats of school violence?

It is unclear if these incidents are connected, are the result of individual acts, or what the motivation is for the fake reports. It could be as misguided as a random person thinking it is funny, to someone disgruntled with the district, or even someone intending to cause a crime elsewhere and seeking to draw a large law enforcement presence in another part of town. Along with local law enforcement investigations, the FBI is investigating if there is a connection among incidents. It is also possible that there is some copycat behavior involved.  

According to Hutto (TX) Chief of Police Jeff Yarbrough, bomb threats were once a common swatting hoax. Incidents included anonymous reports or writings on bathroom walls that provided a date and time that the incident would occur. The correlated objective was often to cancel or delay a scheduled exam. Today, a larger number of swatting incidents are specifically related to mass shooting events. 

Where have the swatting incidents been reported?

At least 15 Minnesota schools reported receiving fake calls in the space of a few days earlier this month. Due to information gathered thus far, Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said that investigators believe the incidents in Minnesota likely originated from a single person.  

Incidents have been reported in schools in Arkansas, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. In some cases, parents have arrived on-scene with heightened emotions, wanting answers and some demanding verification the threats are false. 

What are some ramifications of swatting hoaxes?

Multiple concerns can develop from swatting including: 

  • Safety of those responding or in the vicinity of the location as first responders arrive in a heightened state of alert ready to respond to a dangerous situation 
  • Emotional consequences for staff, students, and parents/guardians who, even for a brief time, experience the emotions of being in a real life-threatening situation
  • Potential lax response to future security alerts creating a “cried wolf” situation, threatening the response time of those involved should a real emergency arise in the future
  • Cost to taxpayers is another concern as each incident requires the same full attention and response that a real threat of violence requires; using valuable financial and human resources during response and then post-event investigation
  • Pre-attack surveillance can provide potentially dangerous insight into any security gaps that could be leveraged for a real attack. 

School leaders who want to be prepared to respond to and recover from a fake threat can start with the tips in, “Four Ways to Masterfully Manage Fake Threats of School Violence.”

Related Resources

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

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