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Situation: Bomb Threat

The Crucial Role of Wardens in Managing Bomb Threats

In today's uncertain world, bomb threats pose a serious challenge to public safety. The responsibility of managing these threats usually falls on the shoulders of a facilities wardens. Wardens play a crucial role in ensuring the safety and security of individuals during such high-risk situations. In this article, we will explore the important tasks and responsibilities that wardens undertake when responding to a bomb threat.

What to do if we receive a bomb threat?

Bomb threats can come in several forms, usually by telephone or email, sometimes by note, and in very rare instances in person. If you receive a bomb threat then you should remain calm and respond carefully.

If the threat was made by telephone you should attempt to obtain a copy of your facilities bomb threat checklist, we recommend that persons likely to receive phone calls have one of these nearby to their station. You may need to communicate with another staff member via note, hand signals or mouthing instructions.

If the threat is made by telephone you should:

  • Be polite, show the caller that you are interested and try to keep them talking

  • Attract attention of other staff so they can listen to the conversation and notify the police

  • Write down as much of the call as you can (a bomb threat checklist can assist with this), including the caller ID, the wording of the threat, any background noises you could hear and any details they provided

  • Record the call if you are able to do so discreetly

  • Do not hang up on the caller, they should be the ones to terminate the call

  • Prioritise trying to gain information about the location and appearance of the bomb, time it will detonate or information about what will cause it to detonate

If the threat is made by note or email:

  • Once a message is recognized as a bomb threat, further unnecessary handling should be avoided.

  • Contact the police

  • Protect the note from damage and interference if possible, it could be placed in a plastic sleeve or covered with an open container

  • Do not throw away the note or delete the email, it may contain details that will be useful in an investigation

Once a threat has been received the difficult process of assessing the bomb threats legitimacy and reacting to it begins.

Evaluating a bomb threat

It is common for management and wardens to disregard bomb threats, or view them as "probably a prank," while the majority of bomb threats are not accompanied by an actual bomb this is still an unsafe and negligent viewpoint. All bomb threats should be treated as if they could potentially be real until determined otherwise.

Following an analysis of the information received the chief warden should determine the category of the bomb threat. Generally speaking these are the specific and non-specific types of bomb threats.

Specific threats involve the threat maker providing more detailed information. They might describe the device, explain why it was placed, its location, the time it will detonate at or other details. This is a less common type of threat but is considered more credible.

Non-specific threats are generally less credible (although cannot be dismissed without investigation), the caller will often make a vague statement to the effect that a device has been placed and will often terminate the conversation without further details.

Once the bomb threat has been evaluated a decision on how to respond. Police may be arriving to assist with the management of the threat however they may take some time to arrive and may not be able to conduct an effective search themselves. Lets look at the possible reactions to the bomb threat.

Take no action

Generally this would not be an acceptable step for a threat that was considered genuine, however it is possible that you could determine that this is the most appropriate action. For example if a note making a bomb threat was discovered but a coworker admitted that they wrote it as a poorly judged prank on the receptionist then there would be little point in evacuating the building or searching for a device.

There are a number of reasons you might determine a bomb threat doesn't merit a response, for example:

  • the threat was inherently outlandish

  • the voice on the phone was a child with other children giggling in the background

  • you know who made the threat and they have admitted that it is not real

It is important to note however that deciding to take no action is not a "default response" and is a very serious course of action that should be carefully considered. Even in this scenario you need to notify the police.

Search without evacuation

In some instances the best course of action might be determined to be a search without evacuating the facility. There are a number of reasons you might consider this:

  • the threat does not seem serious enough to warrant a full evacuation but you will search for the device as a precaution

  • the nature of the threat implies that evacuation could cause detonation, or that the device was placed somewhere that could cause more harm if the building is evacuated (for example a carpark or gardens near the evacuation point)

  • an evacuation poses inherent danger to occupants, for example a hospital or care facility

  • the security of the facility makes the chances of a device inside significantly less likely than a bomb placed outside

If a device is found however, then an evacuation should normally be commenced. We will go over search procedures later in this article.

Evacuate and Search

If the threat is deemed serious the best choice of action might be to both search for the device and evacuate the building at the same time. You might consider this based off:

  • the building will take significant time to evacuate

  • you are concerned that if a device is discovered it will be too late to fully evacuate the building

  • you believe the threat is most likely genuine

If a device is found then emphasis should be placed on evacuating the immediate area as a priority, and any emergency services responding should be informed about the discovery and location of the device.

Evacuate without search

There may be factors that make you consider a search too dangerous or difficult to perform. Some of the reasons for that could be:

  • you do not have enough personnel to both direct an evacuation and conduct a search at the same time

  • you believe the bomb threat is genuine and that there is insufficient time to conduct a search

How to conduct a search

The most appropriate personnel to carry out a search, in any given area, are the occupants of the building, structure or workplace because they have the knowledge of ‘what belongs’ or ‘what does not belong’ in a location at any given time. The aim of the search is to identify any object that is not normally found in an area or location, or for which an owner is not readily identifiable or becomes suspect for any other reason, for example:

  • a suspiciously labelled object

  • an object similar to that described in the threat

  • an object of unusual size, shape and sound

  • the presence of pieces of tape, wire, string or explosive wrappings, or other unfamiliar materials.

On locating a suspect object, search personnel should not touch, cover or move it and the location should be conspicuously marked. After ensuring there are no other suspect objects in the vicinity, the area should be evacuated and isolated. Search of other areas should continue to ensure that there are no other suspect objects.

It is important to note that law enforcement will not normally participate in a search for a bomb unless the suspected bomb has already been located by building occupants. Care should also be taken with wireless devices as these may potentially trigger a device.

General priorities for searching areas should follow the following sequence:

  • First, Outside areas including evacuation assembly areas

  • Second, Building entrances and exits and, particularly, paths people will use to evacuate

  • Third, Public areas within buildings

  • Fourth, Other areas

How to conduct an evacuation

If the decision to evacuate is made, people should be requested to remove all personal belongings, e.g. handbags, briefcases, shopping or carry bags, when evacuating. This will facilitate the identification of suspect objects.

At first thought, immediate and total evacuation would seem to be the most appropriate response to any bomb threat. However, the evacuation procedures in response to a bomb threat do not necessarily follow those for a fire, for example, doors and windows should be opened, to lessen blast effect, and not closed as in the case of fire. Additionally, there are significant safety and economic factors associated with a bomb threat, which may weigh against an immediate evacuation:

  • Risk of injury. As a general rule, the easiest area in which to plant an object is in the shrubbery sometimes found outside a building, an adjoining car park or in an area to which the public has the easiest access. Immediate evacuation through these areas might increase the risk of injury and car parks should not normally be used as assembly areas

  • Response limitation. Total and prompt evacuation will remove personnel who may be required to make a search

  • Panic. A sudden bomb threat evacuation may cause panic and unpredictable behaviour, leading to unnecessary risk of injury.

  • Essential services. Some evacuations may be precluded by the essential nature of the operations conducted within the building.

  • Loss to business services. While the protection of life should outweigh any economic loss, repeated threats may increase loss of business and interruption of services to an unacceptable level.

There are some conditions that make immediate total evacuation an undesirable response to the bomb threat. Total and immediate evacuation, whilst risky, is the easy decision, and having taken the easy way, the hard decision of when it is safe to return still has to be made.

One alternative to total evacuation is a partial evacuation. This response is particularly effective when the threat includes the specific or general location of the placed object or in those instances where a suspect object has been located without prior warning. Partial evacuation may reduce risk of injury by removing non-essential personnel. Personnel essential to a search may remain, critical services may be continued and, in cases of repeated threat, loss of output will be minimized. Partial evacuation requires a high degree of planning, training, supervision, coordination and rehearsal.