School threats: Factors that can help decide a response

Administrators and law enforcement responding to school threats must quickly evaluate them to determine how to respond. Some factors they consider:



Is the threat of a bombing, a shooting, or other specified or unspecified violence? It is vague or presented with details, such as an exact target, time or location? Responses can vary significantly depending on this information. A vague threat at a multi-school campus might lead to evacuations or lockdowns affecting many more people than a threat against someone specific in a particular class.



Schools receive threats via phone calls and messages, paper notes, messages written on school property, emails, social media and other forms. Sometimes the method of delivery helps officials determine who’s responsible for the threat and whether real harm might be imminent because they can, for example, trace a Facebook post to a particular account or assess whether a call came from out of state.



Learning the responsible party’s motive, such as getting a class canceled or hurting someone who has wronged them, and information about whether the person would actually have the means and ability to follow through on a threat also can help determine its legitimacy.



How a school has planned for or practiced various responses, such as lockdowns and evacuations, can also factor into whether such orchestrated options are used in threatening or emergency situations.