One of the cardinal rules for bomb threat planning “those who work the building should search the building” seems to be either not known or overlooked among emergency response protocols in the US.
Recently, there was a wave of bomb threat calls both in Washington State and elsewhere that illustrate a need for IED Awareness and SEARCH within bomb threat planning for the targeted institutions as well as any organization where a bomb threat call may be received, which in reality is almost everywhere.
On 16 November 2012 Washington State had bomb threat calls to 8 Courthouses all within a few minutes. In addition to Washington; Illinois, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kansas, Arizona, Nebraska, and Connecticut had similar bomb threat calls around that day. In all of the cases in Washington the response by the facilities receiving the bomb threat was potentially the wrong one: They immediately evacuated and left the searching up to first responders.
Each of the facilities relied on police teams to search the premises for a suspicious device. As anyone who has performed an IED search will tell you with any experience; when you are in an unfamiliar environment and searching for a suspicious device….EVERYTHING can be a suspicious device.
A cardinal rule in bomb threat planning was either broken, or perhaps not known, among the security managers of the facility. This cardinal rule is: “Those who work the building should search the building”. Contrary to some perceptions law enforcement, and yes even Police Bomb Disposal Units, do not have a magical wand that will detect IEDs with 100% accuracy in a working environment. Especially in a large areas, even K9 (Bomb Detection Dogs), which are excellent tools for detection, are not 100% reliable and also have a limited work span. In Washington State for example, where many threats occurred simultaneously, there exists the chance that the resources can either be not enough, or literally wear out before a thorough search is conducted of all the facilities. If your organization can take a work stoppage that last days, this is not a problem. However, if your organization and those it serves depend upon maintaining operations, each moment that you are shut down is a victory for the bomb threat callers intentions and a loss for your side.
Bomb Threat Planning should take this into consideration. Training must be performed to provide the workers of the building with IED awareness and SEARCH, and then they search the building. If a suspicious item is found, safe evacuation procedures are then instituted and the police called.
Evacuation then relying on police sets up a dangerous precedent at worst, and creates revenue loss by disruption of the operation in a potentially unnecessary evacuation for a threat.
Over 90 percent of all bomb threat calls are fake. Evacuating automatically sets up a very disruptive pattern of interruption of work. Interruption to work is a very effective weapon of the bomb threat call, and in some cases may be the callers only intent as the mere threat of a bomb will trigger an evacuation and work stoppage. By not following the cardinal rule, the building managers are playing into the hands of the bad guy.
Worse, evacuations have been known to place large groups of people in harms way by removing them from relatively secure areas with natural cover and now expose them in the open to an area that was less secure than the building they evacuated from. The evacuation may contribute to or allow the flow of the people towards the actual bomb. The decision to evacuate without an educated understanding of IED tactics and SEARCH potentially can contribute to a potential loss of life.
Israel, the UK, and many places in IED ravaged South of Thailand understand and practice the doctrine of “Those who work the building should search the building.”. Something the US should take note of an integrate into their planning process sooner rather than later.
There are a number of other considerations to be taken into account with Bomb Threat Planning, and this is only a very brief observation from experience that doing what Washington State did in November with automatic evacuations and relying on first responders for the search as the first answer is the wrong answer. If building managers make decisions based upon no information, rather than an informed decision based upon SEARCH trained observation and planning, the results could be needless work stoppage at best, and lives lost at worst.
Washington State Bomb Call locations**
NOV 15: Chelan County-3:15 P.M. (Chelan County Courthouse) *Evacuated, but around 4:20 P.M. People are allowed to be escorted back to get their possesions.
NOV 15: Clark County-3:20 P.M. (Clark County Courthouse) *Evacuated
NOV 15: Thurston County- 3:30 P.M. (Thurston County Courthouse) *Evacuated
NOV 15: Benton County- “Thursday Afternoon” (Benton County Justice Center) *Evacuated
NOV 15: Columbia, Douglas, Adams, and Pacific also had bomb threats during Thursday afternoon. All Evacuated.