NJ a ‘state of concern’ for school bomb threats
A bomb threat on social media causes an evacuation of Glen Rock High School. A call to Tenafly High School claims there are four bombs planted on the property. Two teenagers allegedly phone in bomb threats that lead to the evacuation of two schools in Passaic County.
That's just a sample of the bomb scares already on the books for the 2017-2018 academic year in New Jersey. And if recent data are any indication, these disruptions won't stop.
For the second consecutive year, New Jersey ranks in the top 10 for the number of bomb-related incidents and threats in schools, according to statistics gathered by the Educator's School Safety Network.
The nonprofit lists New Jersey as a "state of concern" — No. 6 out of all 50 states for the count of threats and incidents during 2016-2017. New Jersey's count dropped significantly from the year prior, but according to group director Amy Klinger, that has a lot to do with a rise in the number of incidents being reported by schools as "unspecified threats."
"They're not necessarily saying what the threat is because they have found that when you say they're bomb threats, you get more. It creates this ... copycat," Klinger said.
School officials and law enforcement gave little detail about a threat of violence that forced the cancellation of a Thanksgiving Day high school football game between Asbury Park and Neptune.
Between 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, the number of bomb threats at New Jersey schools spiked from 39 to 62, according to the most recent report from the state Department of Education. The report said swatting incidents — when a perpetrator reports a fake emergency in an attempt to dispatch first responders to the scene — could be the reason behind the "sudden uptick."
The DOE noted state law requires that school districts conduct annual security drills that practice procedures responding to an emergency beyond just a fire.
Klinger said schools nationwide must make an effort beyond responding to a bomb threat; plans should also be in place in the event of a bomb actually detonating on campus. There were four such incidents in the country in 2015-2016, she said.
"Whether they make a threat or not, there are folks out there who are looking at the idea of a mass casualty event, and they're thinking of bombs as the way to do it," Klinger said. "I have no pleasure in saying that, but that is the reality."
The better a school's ability to evaluate a threat, she added, the less likely other threats will follow.
"The whole point of a threat is to cause chaos and excitement, and everyone's cranked up and there's sirens and the parents are hysterical," she said. "All of that stuff is minimized when there's been a plan and there's been training. Now all of a sudden my bomb threat isn't as exciting anymore."
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.