On Monday, NSW experienced its second multi-school evacuation as a result of a bomb threat. Last week, NSW and Victorian schools were evacuated for the same reason.
In the latest incident, nine schools were evacuated in total. However, a police spokeswoman said there was “nothing to substantiate that there was anything serious” at any of the schools involved.
Even though all threats proved to be false alarms, the schools involved acted decisively by contacting police and evacuating students as a safety precaution – and rightly so.
While bomb threats made against schools are almost always hoaxes, no principal would be willing to bet 500 or so lives on that possibility each time by ignoring it.
But what happens when this becomes a weekly – or daily – occurrence? The learning of an entire school is disrupted while students, staff and parents begin the anxious wait to see whether or not they’re safe.
After receiving a bomb threat in December, New York kept its schools open, even while schools in Los Angeles were being evacuated due to the same threat.
“We do believe that this is in fact a hoax, and we will investigate it as such, but we cannot allow ourselves to raise levels of fear,” said NYPD commissioner, Bill Bratton, calling the Los Angeles’ school evacuations “a significant overreaction”.
Similarly, Texas schools stayed open despite receiving threats by email the following day.
“Obviously someone is trying to scare Dallas and that’s not going to work,” said Dallas Mayor, Mike Rawlings.
Dr Clarke Jones, counter-terrorism expert from the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, is no stranger to this issue.
Jones told The Educator that while the threats might seem menacing, the perpetrators were likely to be kids “playing on the current state of fear about terrorism”.
“However, the public would never tolerate a school ignoring a threat if an actual attack were to be carried out – so it is imperative that schools act on each and every threat,” he said.
“If there was something of a more sinister note, I think there would be a much more serious test of responses. Given the nature of the ones we’re seeing now, it doesn’t seem to be anything coordinated. While I cannot quantify it, I doubt that there would be any actual links to terrorism behind these threats.”
Jones said that due to the frequency of threats, the threshold for reacting to these sorts of events has lowered, meaning that schools are reacting more quickly and efficiently to threats than what they have in the past.
“This has particularly been the case over the last five years due to the deteriorating security situation around the world,” he said.
“Schools have become well-rehearsed at making sure students and staff are safe without being too disruptive to the learning process.”