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The Surge of Bomb Scares

The number of bomb threats in schools has increased, even right here in Tenafly, NJ.

Melina Lotito, Staff Writer

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Mr. Morrison turns on the loudspeaker as we hear an announcement for a shelter in place. We are to remain in our classrooms to continue learning but are not allowed to leave the room for anything. We can’t go to the bathroom, we can’t go to our locker, to the nurse, to get a drink.

Tenafly High School

This is all due to a reported threat that the school is to be bombed. Last month, our school was disrupted by a bomb scare that left teachers and students wondering: what could the shelter in place be for? Why is this taking so long? Is this a drill or not? And the one question that people feared the most: is this a real bomb threat?

More and more, potential bomb threats across America are disrupting schools, with pranksters targeting them for their density of people—students and staff members alike—and disrupting everyone’s day. These threats can close schools for multiple hours of the school day, and they must be taken very seriously. In the past, school bomb threats were not nearly as common as they are today. School bomb threats are now nothing out of the ordinary, and in some schools drills are even done to prepare the staff and children in what to do in case of a real emergency. However, bomb threats are also an annoyance.

According to the Tenafly Board of Education, a bomb threat is defined as “a message, regardless of the source or form or truth of the message, that someone has placed or intends to place in the school an explosive device or any material that will cause significant harm to persons in the school or damage to school property.” Bomb threats can take the form of a telephone call, a handwritten or e-mailed note, a rumor, or any other communication form. And while we know the most common places for bomb threats are on the walls of bathroom stalls, Detective Barnes confirmed the fact that bomb threats can really be placed just about anywhere. And while all school bomb threats must be taken seriously, according to the Department of Justice a whopping 90 percent of school bomb threats are hoaxes.

But with different times, come strict measures. Schools, not just in America but worldwide, are taking precautionary measures as terrorism is on the rise. As shown by the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City on in 2001, the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, the planned attacks in Paris that took place in 2015, and the arena bombing at an Ariana Grande performance in Britain last May, we can never be too careful. Society can’t stand by idly. We must learn from these unfortunate events in history.

So what are the exact steps taken when a bomb threat is reported? And how does our school and police department keep us safe? According to the Tenafly Board of Education, any threat reported by a staff member or student should go straight to the principal himself and a written bomb threat should be placed in a folder or a folded paper and should be handled as little as possible. If the bomb threat was called in, the line or call should immediately be transferred to the principal. The principal should try his best to keep the caller on the line, and get to know as much information as he can. The caller’s name, address, location, gender, age, background, and motive are all aspects the receiver should note. It is also essential that the receiver of the call pay close attention to any background noises and the tone or mood of the caller’s voice. After a bomb threat is received, the principal will reach out to the Tenafly Police Department, the fire department, and the superintendent’s office.

Staff members of the school claim that bomb threats were not nearly as common when they were in high school as they are today. “I remember a lot of drills but I do not remember any bomb threats,” Ms. Helmis, an English teacher, said. “The number of drills has definitely increased since I was in school.” Some staff members claimed they never had lock-down or bomb-threat drills. “The only drill we had was a fire drill,” Detective Bill Barnes said. “My school did have a presidential candidate come visit, but the only increase we saw were the bomb dogs walking around the school.”

According to schoolsecurity.org, 30% of bomb threats resulted in evacuations of schools, 10% of the threats closed school for at least the day of the threat, and at least 320 arrests were made as of the time of the study, the vast majority of those arrests being children from ages 8 to 18.

…the students are good at reporting things that seem out of the ordinary”

— Detective Bill Barnes

While potential school bombings are an ongoing problem in many schools, this school has had a lot of experience with suspected bomb threats, and Detective Barnes believes that the staff and students as a whole display a readiness to handle these ongoing situations. “I feel that the students are good at reporting things that seem out of the ordinary,” he said. All we can do as a school community is constantly keep our eyes and ears open for any suspicious activity that we see and report it. Ms. Helmis takes some comfort in the Tenafly Police Department. “The police are always here immediately and they know exactly what they are doing. I feel that they are keeping the school safe,” she said.

For more information on school bomb threats, visit:  http://www.aaets.org/article99.htm.

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The Surge of Bomb Scares