In the wake of mass shootings at institutions across the U.S., school safety remains a top priority for district leaders as gun violence plagues K-14 schools. But new and unusual threats have emerged that are causing severe disruptions to school operations and student learning: falsified threats.

In recent weeks, several U.S. schools were locked down due to “swatting,” or the act of reporting dangerous but false threats to spark fear among students, parents, and staff, according to a District Administration report.

National School Safety and Security Services President Kenneth Trump says falsified threats typically originate from three sources: current or former students, individuals in the local community, and swatting reports made digitally through proxy servers and other tactics to disguise the source, often caused by entities outside of the U.S.

Trump said schools could mitigate swatting and safety threats in several ways, such as:

  • Establishing threat assessment teams, protocols, and training with school leaders, law enforcement, and first responders in advance. Do not wait to meet in the middle of an evacuation in the parking lot.
  • Partnering with local law enforcement and first responders to collaboratively evaluate and respond to swatting and safety threats to avoid severely disrupting school operations.
  • Having crisis communications and social media strategies and plans to engage in timely and accurate communications with their school community when exposed to threats. Should a threat happen, they can hit the ground running with accurate and timely information in a crisis.

Another critical aspect is informing students of the consequences of making false threats.

“Educators and parents need to talk with young people to get across the message that threats will be treated seriously, investigated thoroughly, and consequences delivered even though it may take days or weeks to investigate in some cases,” Trump says. “Teens and others need to understand that you can’t put the threat back into the smartphone once you press send. A ton of bricks will eventually fall—suspension and expulsion if you’re a student and criminal prosecution with demands for restitution for the costs of massive police response and heightened security at schools where threats are targeted.”