In the wake of unprecedented incidents of school shootings and cybersecurity threats, another security menace has crept its way into K12 education. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot schools can do in terms of prevention. In fact, schools in nearly every state have fallen victim to this recent trend.
Falsified threats, commonly known as “swatting,” are external reports of shootings or bombs that prompt the response of local SWAT teams. In some cases, schools are forced to shut down for the day, wasting valuable learning time for students.
This threat won’t be resolved anytime soon, Kenneth Trump, president of the National School Safety and Security Services Association, told District Administration in a recent interview. He noted that the nationwide spur of threats seems to be related to one another and perhaps originating from international sources. If that is the case, finding a solution would require an investigation between the FBI and international law enforcement, which could take a while.
But just how serious is the issue? The Educator’s School Safety Network, a not-for-profit that provides educators with school safety training and resources, has been tracking the number of violent incidents and threats against K12 schools, including false swatting reports. To date, the organization has recorded 401 swatting incidents.
And it doesn’t stop there. The National Association of School Resource Officers, an organization that offers training to school-based law enforcement officers, has compiled excerpts from news briefs related to swatting threats against schools. They found that schools in 42 states, plus the District of Columbia, have been hit by falsified threats.
“Probably in this case, they’re foreign actors,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told reporters after 36 “swatting incidents” hit schools across New York in one week. “They’re computer-generated calls originating in foreign lands that are trying to cause disruption.”
The calls usually go to school offices, she added, which are sometimes awful to listen to.
“In some cases, there’s a recording of sounds like shootings in the background, which is horrific,” she said. “It sounds very legitimate…This is why it’s causing so much trauma for teachers and students and families.”
While there is little to no prevention regarding swatting threats against schools, Trump recently outlined three ways leaders can help mitigate the effects of these incidents:
- Establish threat assessment teams, protocols and training
- Schools need to identify “heightened security” procedures that they will put in place when they determine threats are not credible and continue on with education while the threats are being investigated to identify the threat maker.
- Schools must have crisis communications plans as well as social media strategies to engage in timely and accurate communications with their school community when they are exposed to such threats.