How to respond to a bomb threat

  • A series of hoax bomb calls has caused disruption to schools across the country
  • Schools receiving anonymous threats face the challenge of ensuring their staff and students are safe, while avoiding causing unnecessary panic
  • We offer some straightforward guidance on how to handle school bomb threats and discuss why you should regularly review your school’s security plan

Football’s European Championship in France has ensured that terrorism has already dominated headlines this summer, with heightened security across the country.

The terrorist threat currently facing the UK has been categorised as severe, meaning an attack is considered highly likely.

In this climate of heightened alarm, a succession of anonymous phone calls to schools, warning of bomb and gun attacks, has understandably caused deep concern.

Although these calls have proved to be hoaxes, many schools have been forced to evacuate their students as a precaution, which has disrupted lessons and in some cases, affected GCSE exams.

It can be difficult for schools to strike a balance between taking such threats seriously, and avoiding causing unnecessary alarm to staff, students and the wider community.

Here, we offer some simple, straightforward guidance to help you plan for a school bomb threat.

How to deal with a hoax bomb threat

The following is a list of useful guidance for anybody within your school who is responsible for handling telephone calls.

  • Most threats are usually made over the phone, and are usually anonymous. As it is almost impossible to distinguish between a genuine call and a hoax, all calls should be treated as genuine
  • As soon as it has been established that the call is about a bomb or gun threat, let the caller finish without interruption
  • Use this checklist to obtain as many details as possible from the caller without asking them directly
  • Keep your responses to one or two words when asked a direct question
  • If possible, get a colleague to call the police while you are dealing with the call
  • As soon as the call ends, ensure all relevant information is provided to the police and to the building manager/security office/senior manager responsible for evacuations
  • Once the incident is completed, ensure all checklists and forms used in dealing with the call are passed to the incident officer or senior duty officer

Security guidance for schools

The recent spate of hoax calls should prompt you to review your security and emergency planning, to ensure it is up-to-date and relevant.

Your school should have a named security co-ordinator, whose responsibilities should include:

  • Producing a security plan based on a thorough risk assessment
  • Implementing, testing and reviewing security measures
  • Forming contingency plans to deal with bomb threats, suspect packages and possible evacuation
  • Deciding when premises can be safely re-occupied, if they have been evacuated
  • Liaising with the emergency services and local authorities
  • Arranging staff training, communications and drills

The government has more guidance on what should be included in a security plan.

Evacuating the premises

Evacuation plans, including arrangements for securing alternative premises in the event of a full evacuation, should be included in your school’s security plan.

Often the biggest dilemma is deciding where the safest place might be. If an evacuation route means close contact with where a suspect device is thought to be, evacuation may not be the best course of action.

Government advice is that buildings should be evacuated if a device is believed to be inside. If it is believed to be outside the building it may be safer to remain inside.

The decision to evacuate will normally be yours, but the police will advise and in exceptional cases may insist on evacuation.

Read the full evacuation guidance from the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure.

Handling communications after a threat

In the event of a serious incident, it is important to inform staff and students as quickly as possible. You should plan in advance which communications channels you would use, and ensure that messages are clear and succinct. Make sure you avoid asking staff to carry out too many actions at once.

A quick response may be vital, especially as staff may be monitoring media reports, so you could consider setting up pre-prepared templates for staff announcements.

Here is some further guidance on building a school emergency communications plan.