News

Planning for Bomb Threats in Schools

Written by Cheryl Hambly – Senior Consultant, Emergency Management

Bombs and other explosive devices are becoming an increasing danger to Australian society. One need only look at the growing number of recent examples to realise that this form of terrorism is becoming more prevalent. The potential for personal injury, damage to property and disruption of processes is greater than it has ever been. Unfortunately, schools are not immune to this trend and it is more vital than ever that schools develop emergency plans and procedures to deal with bomb threats and attacks should they occur.

The potential for such an incident in Australia is great, and teachers must treat all threats seriously. The majority of bomb threats may turn out to be hoaxes or pranks, however no school should ever be complacent.

The right plans and procedures to deal with a bomb threat can minimise the risk to your school. It is important to stay calm and in control during an emergency, and especially in schools where the safety of children is involved, it is important to not make decisions based on emotions. Having a detailed emergency response plan to manage a bomb threat is critical.

Types of bomb threat

According to the updated Australian Standard 3745 (2010), bomb threats may present themselves either in writing, verbally or as a suspect object. The Standard provides the following information and guidance for dealing with each scenario.

For bomb threats made over the telephone:

  • Make note of as much information as possible during the call (use a Bomb Threat Checklist)
  • Attract the attention of co-workers and signal them to alert the chief warden and the police
  • Do not hang up the telephone, as the police may be able to trace the call later
  • After the call, make a note of any information while it is still fresh in your mind
  • Keep calm

For bomb threats received in writing:

  • Keep the message and any envelope or container it came with
  • Avoid any tampering or unnecessary handling after the message is received
  • Protect the message and accompanying materials, preferably in a plastic envelope, to retain any evidence such as fingerprints or handwriting
  • Alert the authorities

In case of suspect objects:

  • Use the HOT-UP catchword (see below)
  • Contact police immediately

Evaluation and Notification

It is vital that police are informed of all threats immediately, no matter in what form they arrive or how empty or far-fetched they might be.

Upon receipt of any bomb threat, the Emergency Control Organisation (ECO) must evaluate the severity of the threat to determine the most appropriate response. Such factors as risk of injury or increased panic must be considered before a suitable type of evacuation is chosen.

Evacuation options

Depending on the severity of the situation, the ECO can decide on the following stages of evacuation:

  • Stage 1 (Shelter in place or No evacuation): Removal of people from the immediate danger area
  • Stage 2 (Partial Evacuation): Removal of people to a safer area
  • Stage 3 (Full Evacuation): Complete evacuation of all people

When in doubt, it is safest to fully evacuate the school until a proper search has been conducted. It is important to maintain good communication throughout the evacuation to avoid confusion, minimise fear of students and of their relatives, and avoid bad publicity. A media management plan can be useful for this purpose, which may be incorporated into the school’s emergency response plan or critical incident plan.

No school is immune to a bomb threat. Recent incidents ranging from the phone threat at Bundaberg High School in Queensland to the bomb explosion at St Clair Public School in Western Sydney highlight the vulnerability of schools throughout Australia. The updated Australian Standard 3745 (2010) provides guidance on planning and response in case of bomb threats and should be considered in every schools emergency response plan.  Schools must have the necessary security, plans and procedures in place to minimise bomb threats if and when they occur.

It is worth listing some relevant news articles relating to recent bomb incidents in Australian schools:

Date Synopsis Website Link
12/09/11 Suspicious package causes bomb scare at a Canberra school http://citynews.com.au/2011/news/bomb-scare-at-school/
23/08/11 Bomb is detonated at a Western Sydney school http://au.news.yahoo.com/a/-/newshome/10096196/home-made-bomb-emergency-at-sydney-school/
24/09/10 Chemical bomb explodes in teachers face at a Wollongong school http://www.illawarramercury.com.au/news/local/news/general/bomb-explodes-in-figtree-teachers-face/1950622.aspx
09/03/09 Bomb threat left on answering machine forces evacuation at a Queensland school http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/769035/bomb-squad-called-to-qld-high-school
02/09/09 Telephone bomb threat forces lockdown at a Melbourne school http://www.heraldsun.com.au/news/scotch-college-drama-continues-after-threats-down/story-e6frf7jo-1225768815317
07/12/07 A student forces the evacuation of an Eastern Sydney school after an explosive device is found in his bag http://www.dailytelegraph.com.au/news/sydney-nsw/schoolbag-bomb-lockdown/story-e6freuzi-1111115056752