How to Respond to Telephone Bomb Threats
by Paul Davis
Your receptionist answers the phone and hears the caller claim that he has planted a bomb in your place of business. The caller says that unless you place a stated amount of money in a trash can in a nearby park, he will detonate the bomb. What would you do? Do you or your employees know how to handle telephone bomb threats?
This threat is a real one, as a caller and his possible copycats are calling stores and using the threat of a bomb to extort money. Last month, a Wal-Mart in Beaufort, South Carolina received such a threatening phone call.
The caller said he would detonate a bomb in the store in 2½ hours unless money was left for him at a stated location. The store was quickly evacuated and bomb-detecting dogs were called in. As in most cases of threatening bomb calls, there was no bomb.
The FBI is investigating the extortion cases, which have been committed in 11 states. In most cases, the caller threatens to blow up the store or business unless large sums of money are wired to overseas accounts.
"The FBI, in close cooperation with other federal, state and local law enforcement partners, is working to identify those responsible and bring them to justice," said assistant FBI director Kenneth W. Kaiser. "These are serious criminal offenses and the FBI needs the public's assistance and information related to potential bomb threats."
Hopefully your business will never receive a bomb threat over the phone, but you should have an emergency plan and you should train your employees on how to react if you do receive such a call.
Although for most people, the first instinct is to drop the phone and just get out of there, the FBI suggests you remain calm and take the below listed steps and ask the below listed questions when responding to a potential phone-in bomb threat:
When is the bomb going to explode?
Where is the bomb right now?
What does it look like?
What kind of bomb is it?
What will cause it to explode?
Did you place the bomb?
Why did you place the bomb in our business?
What is your address?
What is your name?
What is your phone number?
Although I doubt that the caller will give up his personal information, the FBI and other law enforcement officers believe that it is good to keep the caller talking and glean as much information as you can.
In my many years serving on Navy ships, boats and bases, I've had to contend with a half dozen bomb threat phone calls. All of the calls were bogus, but with each call we had to act with caution. If only one of the calls had been a serious threat, the lives of our people would have been in jeopardy.
Our procedures mirror the FBI's, which are to document the exact wording of the treat and the caller's response. (Take notes). Try to determine the caller's gender, race and age.
Note the characteristics of the caller's voice. Was he angry or excited? Did he have an accent? Was he well spoken or incoherent. Was the message taped?
Were there background noises that you could identify, like street noises? If there is a caller ID, write the number down. If you have recording capabilities, maintain the tape for the police.
If you receive a bomb threat over the phone, don't pull the fire alarm and don't use cell phones. These devices may actually detonate the bomb.
The main thing for you and your employees to do is to remain calm. If you panic and there is a disorganized evacuation, you might have injuries and the subsequent law suits. Having a plan and your procedures publicly posted will help you to maintain order if you receive a threatening call. The security checklist should be on every workstation and you should have drills to practice your reactions.
You can access the Department of Homeland Security's bomb call procedures and a bomb threat checklist at http://emilms.fema.gov/is906/assets/ocso-bomb_threat_samepage-brochure.pdf