About the time I first became a principal, schools were required to write evacuation plans (in addition to a myriad of other plans). We were presented with guidelines but needed to flesh out the particulars.
One of the potential crisis we needed to consider was how to deal with a bomb scare.
Typically, in this province anyway, when a call comes in saying that there is a bomb in the school, the building is evacuated and the local police force is called. That response didn’t make sense to me. Think about it – the assumption is that all terrorists are honest. REALLY? – Do you suppose when you go to terrorist school you must take a pledge to be honest and true? If someone called and said that there was a bomb in the school, I would be concerned that it would be located OUTSIDE the school (garbage can, perhaps) and detonated while students are evacuated. When the person who wants to wreak havoc knows how you are going to respond then that person often plans accordingly. In recent years there have been too many examples of this.
In the event of a bomb scare, my plan was NOT to evacuate but to call the local police and request that the exterior of the school be searched. If it was deemed to be free and clear of explosives then I would consider evacuation. In the meantime, we would continue about our day. As long as the children were in the school they were spread out over a much greater area than if they were huddled together in the playground. There was an R.C.M.P. officer in Fredericton tasked with assisting us with the development of our plans. I called him and explained my rationale. He agreed that there was no response that was deemed to be the only response and that there was merit to my logic.
Fortunately, this was not a situation I ever had to deal with. If a call did come in, we were encouraged to keep the caller on the line and to gather any intelligence offered.
Keep in mind that there has never been a bomb placed in a New Brunswick school – they have always been hoaxes. Assuming that there was no intelligence to suggest we were in a heightened threat environment, and if a call came in to me reporting an on-site bomb, this is how I would like to think I would have handled it.
“There’s a bomb in the school.”
My response, “There’s balm in the school?”
“What flavour of balm?”
“What are you talking about?
“You said that there was lip balm in the school. I want to know the flavour?”
“I said a bomb, like a bomb bomb; you know, a blow-up bomb.”
“You don’t mean lip balm? I’m sure there are different flavours lip balm in every school in the province.”
“NO, YOU IDIOT. I MEAN A BOMB!”
“Wow, is this ever embarrassing. Are you sure you don’t mean lip balm – that makes more sense.”
I would attempt to gather information such as when the lip balm was going to be applied, etc. I would keep the guy on the phone until he hung up on me. At that point I would call the local police detachment and report the call and any information gathered. If the officer suggested I evacuate the school I would request that the exterior be sanitized first. I’m not sure what response I would have received to that request.
There is a story told about a Saint John principal who, many years ago, took a phone call and was informed that there was a bomb in his school. He said two words to the caller, one was a verb and the other an adverb and then hung-up the phone. That was the end of that.
It makes one wonder, if you call in a bomb threat and are not taken seriously, to whom do you complain?
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