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Bomb Threats

DOJ Bomb Threat Guidance Brochure (PDF)

Receiving Telephone Bomb Threats

  1. The person receiving a bomb threat should remain calm and should immediately write down the below details while they are fresh in their memory. This information will aid the University Police in their investigation. After the call, they should immediately notify their supervisor and then call the University Police at 911 on any campus telephone.
  2. Immediately write down the exact wording of the threat.
  3. Questions to ask the caller:
    • When is the bomb going to explode?
    • Where is it right now?
    • What does it look like?
    • What kind of bomb is it?
    • Did you place the bomb?
    • Why?
    • What is your name?
    • What is your address?
  4. An educated guess should be made as to the sex, age, and race of the caller.
  5. Record:
    • Time and date call was received.
    • Time length of call.
    • Telephone number at which call was received.
    • Name of person receiving call.
  6. Describe the caller’s language as:
    • Foul
    • Irrational
    • Well spoken (educated)
    • Incoherent
    • Taped
    • Message read by threat maker
  7. Describe the caller’s voice:
    • Calm
    • Angry
    • Excited
    • Slow
    • Rapid
    • Soft
    • Loud
    • Laughter
    • Giggling
    • Sincere
    • Normal
    • Distinct
    • Crying
    • Nasal
    • Stutter
    • Lisp
    • Slurred
    • Stressed
    • Deep
    • Ragged
    • Clearing throat
    • Deep breathing
    • Cracking voice
    • Raspy
    • Disguised
    • Accent
    • Familiar
  8. The person receiving the call should attempt to identify background noises that may help to determine the location where the call is made from:
    • Street noises
    • Voices (crowd)
    • Laughter
    • Music
    • Motor engines
    • PA System
    • Office machinery
    • House noises
    • Factory machinery
    • Animal noises
    • Telephone line noise: Clear, Static, Echo, Long distance

Receiving Written Threats

Save all materials, including any envelope or container. Once the message is recognized as a bomb threat, further unnecessary handling should be avoided. Every possible effort must be made to retain evidence such as fingerprints, handwriting or typewriting, paper, and postal marks which are essential to tracing the threat and identifying the writer.

While written messages are usually associated with generalized threats and extortion attempts, a written warning of a specific device may occasionally be received. It should never be ignored.

Before the Police Arrive

Although the majority of bomb threats turn out to be no more than threats, the threat should be considered as real until all facts are evaluated or a thorough search is made. Pending the arrival of the police, the building manager can take some steps to facilitate investigation of the bomb threat.

  1. Establish search teams of employees on a voluntary basis. This will greatly reduce the amount of time required to search a building. Employees having knowledge of the area and objects in the area will be able to conduct a search more quickly.
  2. Employees who participate in the search must be advised that it is their mission to search for and report suspicious objects. Under no circumstances are they to touch, jar, or move the object or anything attached thereto!
  3. Searches are always conducted in teams of at least two. (This is to ensure the diligence, motivation and the integrity of the search teams. Many people who call in bomb threats are connected to the target location. The suspect may be on a search team.)
  4. In non-public areas of a building, only the normal occupants can recognize an object as suspicious. This means that occupants must assist in the search. A bomb search by supervisors or someone from outside the workplace has a confidence level of 50%-65%. This number increases to 85% when the normal occupants of a work area do the search. The effectiveness of a search increases to 90% to 100% only when a special trained search team is used. This team combines occupants and police.
  5. During the search, a rapid two-way communication system is of utmost importance. Such a system can be readily established through existing telephones. Caution — the use of portable radios during the search can be dangerous. The radio transmission energy can cause premature detonation of an electric initiator (blasting cap). (However, Institute of Makers of Explosives indicates that five-watt radios can be used at five feet or more from an explosive device.)
  6. Some of the areas employees might search are:
    1. Rest rooms
    2. Equipment rooms
    3. Air Conditioning ducts
    4. Return air ducts
    5. Elevator pits
    6. Machine rooms
    7. Large ashtrays
    8. Wire closets
    9. Water fountains
    10. Light fixtures
    11. Mail boxes and chutes
    12. False ceilings
    13. Fire hose cabinets
    14. Electrical panels
    15. Stairwells
    16. Waste paper baskets
    17. Telephone booths
  7. Do not forget to search the outside of the building.

Suspicious Objects and Packages

A suspicious object is defined as any object of unknown origin. It may be a backpack, briefcase, radio, shopping bag, or book. (One of the Unabomber’s fatal devices was a short length of 4" × 4" lumber left on the pavement behind a business.)

A suspicious package or object may be suspected for any of several reasons:

  1. The package is labeled “Bomb,” “Danger,” “Do Not Open,” etc.
  2. The package resembles a bomb or is located in a place to fit the circumstances.
  3. The package does not belong to the particular premises or is out of place.
  4. The origin of the package is questionable or cannot be readily determined.
  5. The physical characteristics of the package are suspicious in size, shape, weight, or audibility.

If a suspicious package or bomb is found, evacuate the area. Do not handle it, move it, immerse it, or cover it. You do not know how the device is fused. Do not take the time to try to barricade or “sandbag” a suspicious object.

If a suspicious object is found in a room in the building, leave the door open when you leave it to summon aid. (You want to create an escape route for expanding gases. You close doors in a fire evacuation, open doors to ventilate in a bomb threat evacuation.)

The building manager should have an employee stand by and act as a guide to direct the police upon their arrival.

Room Search Techniques

The following technique is based on use of a two-person search team that contains only the basic techniques.

First Team Action — Listening: When the team enters the room to be searched, they should first move to various parts of the room and stand quietly, with their eyes shut and listen for any unusual noises.

Second Team Action — Divide the room: Divide the room into two equal parts as nearly equal as possible. This equal division should be based on the number and type of objects in the room to be searched, not the size of the room. An imaginary line is then drawn between two objects in the room, i.e., the edge of the window on the north wall to the floor lamp on the south wall.

Third Team Action — Search by height:

  1. Look at all the furniture or objects in the room and determine the average height of the majority of items resting on the floor. In an average room this height usually includes table or desktops, chair backs, etc. The first search height usually covers the items in the room up to hip height.
  2. First room searching sweep: After the room has been divided and a searching height has been selected, both team members will go to one end of the room division line and start from a back-to-back position. This is the starting point, and the same point will be used on each successive searching sweep.

    Each team member now starts searching his way around the room, working toward the other team member, checking all items resting on the floor around the wall area of the room. When they meet, they will have completed a “wall sweep” and should then work together and check all items in the middle of the room up to the selected hip height.

    This first searching sweep should also include those items which may be mounted on or in the walls, such as air-conditioning ducts, baseboard heaters, built-in wall cabinets, etc., if these fixtures are below hip height.

  3. Second room searching sweep: Again look at all the furniture or objects in the room and determine the height of the second searching sweep. This height is usually from the hip to the chin or top of the head. Both team members return to the starting point and repeat the searching techniques at the second selected searching height. This sweep usually covers pictures hanging on the walls, built-in bookcases, tall table lamps, etc.
  4. Third room searching sweep: The height of this sweep is usually from the chin or top of the head up to the ceiling. The third sweep is then made. This sweep usually covers high mounted air-conditioning ducts, hanging light fixtures, etc.
  5. Fourth room searching sweep: If the room has a false or suspended ceiling, the fourth sweep involves investigation of this area. Check flush or ceiling-mounted light fixtures, air-conditioning or ventilation ducts, sound or speaker systems, electrical wiring, structural frame members, etc.
  6. Have a sign or marker posted indicating “Search Completed” conspicuously in the area. Use a piece of colored scotch tape across the door and door jam approximately two feet above floor level if the use of signs is not practical.

Decision To Evacuate

The decision to evacuate a building in the event of a bomb threat is up to the building manager, unless, of course, a bomb is actually found. The building manager’s decision to evacuate should include input from the University Police so any necessary evacuation can be conducted in a safe and expedient manner. The signal for evacuating the building during a bomb threat should be the same as that used for evacuation in case of fire. The use of a different signal for bomb threats may create unnecessary excitement and confusion during evacuation.

Evacuation Plan

Building managers should have a plan of evacuation prepared in advance. This will assist in the orderly, safe evacuation of the building if necessary. Once a building is evacuated, prevent re-entry.

The recommended minimum distance for evacuation is 300 feet from the building. If a large, well-constructed office building is the target and a threat is directed toward a specific floor, evacuate that floor and the floors immediately above and below it.

Physical Plant staff should be close at hand during an evacuation if it is necessary to cut off power and gas.

If evacuation is warranted, it is recommended that people be directed to a predetermined relocation site to maintain order, locate key personnel during the subsequent search, and to get a head count of building occupants.

Checklists

Search

  1. Volunteer search team formed.
  2. List of areas and floors to be searched.
  3. List of doors to be unlocked.
  4. Areas where police may need special assistance.

Evacuation

  1. Establish a pre-arranged route out of the building.
  2. Establish a pre-arranged assembly area for employees to meet and be counted.