How NJ schools prepare and train for frequent bomb threats
It's not a question of if, but of how many.
Officials expect bomb threats, swatting calls and evacuations to plague New Jersey's schools all over again this year.
Out of the approximately 130 swatting incidents submitted so far this year to the state's official reporting system, about half targeted schools, according to the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security of Preparedness. Schools were the target of 40 percent of swatting reports in 2015.
Paige Schilling, an intelligence analyst with OHSP, said the agency partners with the state Department of Education and State Police to provide "an array of training" to school administrators on how to respond to threats.
The agency defines "swatting" as the act of falsely reporting an ongoing emergency or threat of violence in order to prompt an immediate tactical law enforcement response. Swatting results in a waste of law enforcement's time and resources and is typically the product of a telephonic threat.
"Swatters employ certain technological tools that provide a level of anonymity that we don't see with threats that are written on lockers or notes that are passed around," Schilling told New Jersey 101.5.
New Jersey toughened penalties for swatting at the end of last year. Legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, D-Gloucester, and signed by Gov. Chris Christie, upgraded making a false public alarm from a third to a second-degree crime in situations where there is a report or warning of an impending bombing, a hostage situation, or a person armed with a deadly weapon. Those convicted of swatting may now face five to 10 years in prison and be required to pay restitution for whatever costs were incurred by law enforcement.
Training for emergency scenarios, including the presence of an active shooter, is typically offered to school employees at the end of the academic year. Two eight-hour courses were held in Atlantic and Middlesex counties in June, an agency spokesman said.
New Jersey is one of 10 states that require security drills in schools, according to New Jersey School Boards Association Deputy Executive Director Frank Belluscio. The rule, which went into effect for the 2010-2011 school year, refers to a drill as "an exercise, other than a fire drill, to practice procedures that respond to an emergency situation including, but not limited to, a non-fire evacuation, lockdown, bomb threat, or active shooter situation."
Guideliness issued by the DOE and OHSP require such a drill within the first 15 days of the start of the school year.
"Security strategies and emergency response procedures vary among school districts based on numerous factors, including the size and layout of the school building, age of students, proximity to the local law enforcement, among others," Belluscio said.
Reporter David Matthau contributed to this report.
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