Responding to Bomb Threats - Part Two

               Hollywood loves the drama of explosions, bombs counting down to zero and the last minute defusing of a bomb about to blow.  But real life bomb threats are serious business and can affect your business (see Responding to Bomb Threats – Part One).
               From the first discovery of a suspicious device or the first threatening call, employees will be distracted and have to stop their normal work to search or evacuate.  The response to a bomb threat seems simple enough on the surface, but can quickly become complicated, especially if your organization is not prepared or has not practiced.
There are two most likely ways that you may start your bomb threat response.  The first and most common, is a phone call warning that a bomb is in the facility.  This could be someone with insider information or the suspect himself.  Or a test to see the response to the threat.
The second way is for someone actually finding a suspicious device.  This is what happened with the Time Square bombing attempt.  Two vendors noticed smoke coming from a suspicious vehicle and notified police, leading to the evacuation of the area and eventually to the arrest of Faisal Shahzad. 
Numerous resources online explain what someone should do when they receive a threatening call.  In short, try to get as many details as possible about the explosives and location(s). 
The real trick comes next.  Staff must be alerted to the threat (whether a call or a suspicious device) and the emergency operations plan should be started.  This could be as simple as the incident leader with enough support to coordinate and track searches of the facility.  Also, the leader will need to coordinate with police.  Responding officers will not tell a business to evacuate based on a threat, but they can help assess how credible or likely the threat is.  If similar calls in the area resulted in explosives being found, then that certainly changes the perspective and may prompt an evacuation on a threat alone.  The incident commander will have to weigh those risks and make the final decision on evacuation unless a device has been found.  Another concern is whether or not the building needs to be locked down.  If there is a pending threat, do you want more people coming into a building that may need to be evacuated? 
If there is no reason to evacuate yet, then staff members need to conduct searches of the areas with which they are most familiar.  Before the threat ever starts, employees should be trained on search procedures, both areas that they are responsible for and how to search.  Searches need to include all areas, including restrooms, closets and remote locations.  Searches should be conducted in pairs and done methodically, starting with a search around the floor to waist height of a room then waist to eye level and eye level to ceiling.  In some cases, searches should be done above false ceilings to make certain nothing has been hidden there. 
Be prepared for a lot of suspicious items to be found.  Once people start looking for something odd or out of place, they will certainly find it, if not an actual bomb.  Incident command should be called (landline – no cell phones) and investigate with either police or security.  This can make finding any actual device a little trickier, with the wild goose chases.
During this phase of the incident, two basic things can happen.  One is that a bomb is found.  The other is that one is not found.  If one is found, the organization will have to begin its evacuation plan.  This should be part of the business continuity plan, based on any hazard damaging the facility.  Whether the evacuation is due to a bomb, tornado or utility failure, the end result is the same: operations need to be moved and critical functions continue.
Assuming that nothing is found, the incident commander or leader still has one major task – clearing or terminating the threat.  At some point, the decision must be made that the threat was false and that the facility has been searched adequately to go back to normal.  That will be based in part on the information from the original call, law enforcement information and the search results.  The less specific the threat, a good search and no reported similar incidents combined will mean clearing the bomb threat sooner.  If it is more specific and credible, the process may take a little longer before feeling comfortable with a return to daily operations.
The proper response to bomb threats is well documented with many available resources.  One question is often left unasked.  How many would-be bombers actually call in a threat ahead of time?  In the case of the Times Square bomber, no call was made first and that is more consistent with a terrorist attack, domestic or foreign. 
So if there is no threat and no suspicious device found, then how can any organization protect itself?  The best defense in this case is a strong defense.  A good physical security program that limits access to unauthorized individuals works as a stopper to keep suspects out or at least the areas that they can reach to plant a bomb.  Terrorists usually reconnoiter a target first.  Video surveillance, security patrols, access control are some of the examples of steps that can deter or detect possible terrorist surveillance.  Staff awareness and training is perhaps the most critical element.  Alert employees may detect suspicious people in the area or be the first to notice something odd left behind.
               The key lesson is that the response to a bomb threat starts long before any incident.  Staff awareness and training is vital, as is having a response plan created ahead of time.  Being able to coordinate a search and work with local law enforcement will provide the information needed to make the right decisions.  And, of course, a continuity plan that keeps operations going during any type of crisis.

Eric Smith, CPP is the leading authority on organizational self-defense.  He spent more than a decade in law enforcement before moving into security management.  Eric has developed staff education and security awareness training programs.  As an avid writer and trainer, Eric has created a website and blog at  The blog includes security tips and suggestions for business leaders and anyone interested in personal security.

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