Schools face new wave of violent threats sent by social media and other electronic means, study says

Posted by on February 25, 2014

More than one-third of violent threats to schools since the beginning of this school year were delivered by social media, email, text messaging, and other electronic forms, according to a new study by our national school safety consulting firm.

“The cost of these threats in taxpayer dollars for police response, lost instruction time, and anxiety among students, teachers, and parents is staggering. School administrators and safety officials now face bomb, shooting, and other threats delivered and spread so rapidly on Facebook, through international proxy servers, by email, and in other electronic forms that they must have threat assessment protocols and crisis communications plans ready to go alongside of their traditional emergency response plans,” said Kenneth Trump, President of National School Safety and Security Services.

We looked at 315 documented school bomb threats, shooting threats, hoaxes and acts of violence in 43 states during the first six months of this school year from August, 2013, through the end of January, 2014.

While the vast majority of incidents studied turned out to be false reports, 17 incidents were serious and stand out because of the type of threat, or the violence that resulted. Many of these incidents appear to have been preceded by no warning whatsoever: 

  • California suicide (linked to social media)
  • Alabama school fights (linked to social media)
  • Arapahoe High School, Colorado: Shooting death
  • Florida shooting injury-after a football game
  • Massachusetts Teacher killed
  • Sparks, Nevada: 2 shooting deaths
  • Winston Salem, South Carolina: 1 student wounded in shooting
  • Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: 1 wounded in shooting (linked to social media)
  • Houston: 1 student stabbed to death
  • Memphis 5 yr. old discharges gun in backpack
  • Kansas City boy threatened another kid with gun
  • Texas boy threatened kid with zip gun
  • New Mexico 13 yr.old shot 2 others with shotgun hidden in band instrument case
  • Kansas 17 yr old boy hatched murder-for-hire plot against principal
  • Philadelphia boy shot 2 kids in high school gym
  • Hawaii runaway teen enters school with knife, scuffles with police, gets shot
  • Colorado boy sets himself on fire at school

The vast majority of school threats are empty. Kids often claimed they were joking or did not mean it. But police are taking no chances and responding to every call. This is costing taxpayers real money and raising the anxiety level of millions of children and their parents.

Our study revealed a disturbing trend in how threats are delivered with more than one-third being sent by social media and other electronic forms of communication:

  • Electronic, including social media, email, text message 109 (35%)
  • Bathroom graffiti 48 (15%)
  • Note found in school 27 (9%)
  • Phone threats 36 (11%)
  • Verbal threats 31 (10%)
  • Police refused to say how threat was delivered 56 (18%)

We also found emerging indicators of a new trend of threats made by individuals outside of schools who are trying to distract police from community-based crimes or to extract revenge against their rivals in business and criminal activities:

In our broader analysis of school security incidents nationwide, we are seeing too many school and safety officials make knee-jerk reactions to threats by prematurely evacuating and/or closing schools, possibly exposing children to greater danger. Schools must work with their public safety partners to put threat assessment protocols in place for evaluating bomb threats and assessing school shooting and other threats. Schools must also have crisis communications and social media plans in place so school leaders are ready to hit the ground running when a threat strikes their school-community.

To help superintendents, principals, school boards and their crisis teams better prepare for this new wave of electronic threats, we spent the last year incorporating a crisis communications and social media assessment component as a standard part of our school safety assessment consultation services for schools. Our team of veteran news and communications strategists work with school administrators and communications staff to analyze school web sites, review communications policies and protocols, identify ways to coordinate messaging with community partner agencies, and share the latest strategies from traditional to digital media to help better communicate with parents and the school-community on safety and other educational issues.

Are your school leaders prepared for the new wave of violent threats delivered electronically? Do your schools have traditional emergency guidelines, threat assessment protocols, and crisis communications strategies in place and ready to go?

Ken Trump

Visit School Security Blog at: www.schoolsecurity.org/blog

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