The policy of many organizations, in response to a bomb threat call, is immediate evacuation, especially in a location that is open to the general public. There may be instances where evacuation is the best decision, but in the majority of cases, an emergency evacuation may actually put untrained personnel and visitors at greater risk.
Consider the facts regarding bomb threats, actual detonations, and injuries. Almost never are actual bomb detonations preceded by an alert; wherein the bomber gives advance notice.
Weighed against the actual statistics of injuries suffered during chaotic evacuations, more often, the safest option is to conduct an expeditious search without alarming the population. A search that should only be conducted by trained personnel.
The first step in implementing a safe and effective bomb threat response policy is to dispel the misinformed idea shared by many that a bomb threat can and should be handled the same as a fire alarm. If your organization has historically responded to bomb threats in the same fashion as fire alarms, consider the following:
• If you control access to your facilities; how would someone get in the building to plant a device?
• If an adversary knows that your policy is to evacuate personnel during a bomb threat, why wouldn’t they just park a truck-bomb in the parking lot of your facility and wait for employees to gather at their assigned assembly areas?
• Following a fire alarm, employees are told to re-enter the building upon receipt of an “all-clear” signal. How will your facility manager determine when it is all clear to re-enter after a bomb threat?
• Is it safe to do nothing? Is it responsible to make a general announcement, telling employees there is a bomb threat? How will employees react in either case?
• When the fire department responds to a fire, they either run towards the location of the alarm, or the smell of smoke. Where do police and fire responders go when you report a bomb threat? Are public safety responders familiar with your facility?
• If a bomb threat caller indicates a specific time of detonation, how do you know that his watch and yours are synchronized? How do you know he was calling from your time zone? How do you know he didn’t reach your company by mistake? How do you know he’s not calling the toll-free number on your product label or literature that rings into a call center three states and a time zone away?
The truth is that no public service responder knows your facility better than you do, and in most metropolitan areas, public safety responders don’t have the extra headcount available to help you search for a hazardous device.
So, to reduce the counter-productive impact a bomb threat might have on your organization and to better educate members of your workforce about the disruptive effects of hoax bomb threats, your security department should provide training to key personnel at least annually. This training should be voluntary (as is the responsibility for conducting searches for hazardous devices) and should target the organization’s internal expertise, including personnel assigned to:
Facilities/Maintenance personnel not only have an excellent knowledge of the building’s systems, but they also know who should be working on them at any given time. They know what equipment belongs where, and are curious when they see activity being conducted by outside personnel.
Mailroom and Receiving personnel process inbound parcels, packages, and documents that will find their way to the executive level and to other personnel and departments. By regularly training these individuals to spot suspicious materials, they can be the first trigger in the alert process.
Wherever your organization’s name and telephone number are published (including product labels), the personnel who answer those lines should receive training on how to deal with suspicious or threatening calls. Keep it simple.
C-Suite level and other key executive Administrators coordinate every facet of an executive’s schedule and life. They will normally be suspicious of persons or things that are out of the ordinary and serve as an excellent gatekeeper for information in and out.
If your organization has corporate aircraft; the Flight Crew should be educated on IED search techniques so that they can perform this scan during their regular pre-flight inspection of the aircraft.
Luckily, bomb threats are rare and most organizations will not have to go through the process of a search or evacuation. However, the painful truth is that we live in an unstable world where incidents of violence are on the rise, and police and fire departments are not sufficiently staffed to help facilities conduct searches for bombs and other hazardous devices.
You can protect your people and organization by offering ongoing training that educates rather than alarms, and turns a potential crisis into a mere nuisance.
Rick Colliver served as the global security director for two multi-national organizations and is the course developer for the Principal Protection program at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy. His book, Principal Protection; Lessons Learned, is available through Varro Press.
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