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Ask About Bomb Threats

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By | May 26, 2012

Dear Toolkit,

I once read some tips you gave on how to handle a bomb threat. Can you do an encore on this important topic?

Sincerely,

Wannabe Prepared

Dear Wannabe,

Unfortunately this topic is likely remain timely for the foreseeable future. Since the Oklahoma City, World Trade Center, and, most recently, Boston, our "it can't happen here" complacency has been shattered. With the growing incidence of terrorist attacks, as well as hate crimes against ethnic and immigrant minorities, and the increased press given to the horrific incidents, such as the Maryland/Virginia Sniper case, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook  and many more, the use of weapons and explosives has become the new trend in crime.

"Well yes," you say, "that's probably true. But my small business is certainly not controversial, so there's no threat to me."

Wrong! While it's not likely that your business will be singled out by a maniac, a racist or a conspirator bent on overthrowing the government, it is possible that a disgruntled employee or customer could be inspired by the bombing trend and use it as a way of wreaking havoc to redress a real or imagined slight. Or to simply use the THREAT of a bomb to disrupt your business.

Vigilance, awareness and sensible management are all important lines of defense against the disgruntled or mentally ill, and since knowledge is power, here are a few things you ought to know in case you're ever faced with such a problem.

Pay close attention to details surrounding the threat. If you receive a bomb threat by phone, note the exact time of the call, be aware of the details of the voice, the specific words used, any background noise from the caller's location and the specific line on which the call was received. These details can help authorities in their investigations. For example, was the phone number called a matter of public knowledge or would inside knowledge have been necessary?

Call the police immediately. They will evaluate with you whether the threat is just that or if evacuation is required. A search for the device on your own is not recommended. Wait for the police and accompany them on an inspection so that you can note for them anything that seems out of place. Dogs will often be used for such a search as they can sniff out an object you might easily overlook or not recognize as dangerous. If you find something strange before the authorities arrive, don't touch it.

While these devices can come in many, many forms, the most common one is a pipe bomb which is simply a length of metal or plastic pipe, closed at both ends, often with wire sticking out of it. These devices are easily assembled from materials readily available in a hardware store. Pipe bomb making is not rocket science.

Bombs may contain gunpowder, fertilizer and oil combinations, or expensive Plastique explosives, and a variety of detonating devices may be used. The easy route is a plain old fuse--a candle wick, an incense stick, a cigarette or whatever. But that method is usually not employed as the risk to the bomber is significant. Pressure can be used to detonate the explosive: positive pressure as is used in stepping on a land mine, or negative pressure as when opening a box that releases a spring. Radio signals are a little more expensive, but much more accurate.

The impact that bombs are designed to produce generally fall into three categories: (1) fragmentation of the container and/or scattering of contents such as a pipe filled with nails, (2) blast pressure which causes materials in the environment to shatter such as glass and, (3) fire.

This short course in the anatomy of the common, garden-variety pipe bomb is not to make you a supplier to the growing terrorist market. It is intended to raise your awareness so that you'll be able to identify things in your environment that don't seem to belong there and to know how to handle them.

These descriptions can also apply to devices sent through the mail. If you receive a package with no return address, be extremely careful about its handling, particularly if there is any hint of oil on the wrapping.

Be aware and alert. Become a trained observer. These qualities will serve you well in your efforts to secure your business.

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