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Another Consequence of Gun Culture: Fake Emergency Calls

Colleges in TexasPennsylvania, and elsewhere were shaken last week by a series of “swatting” incidents in which callers falsely reported active shooters to the police. The calls, similar to fake bomb threats, are designed to provoke an intense law-enforcement response and stoke fear on a college campus.

Callers seize upon the real threat of gun violence on campus to send community members into a panic. Recent mass shootings at Michigan State University and the Covenant School, in Nashville, have left many colleges and K-12 schools on edge.

Last week’s fake calls prompted some students to speak out about what they saw as shortcomings in their campus emergency-response protocols. University of Pittsburgh students held a protest last week criticizing the institution for delaying the campuswide alert about the active-shooter call, even though it was a hoax.

On top of the psychological trauma these attacks can cause, there’s also the possibility of physical harm. At Harvard University this month, campus police officers held four Black students at gunpoint in their dorm after the police received a false report of an armed individual in their suite.

The Chronicle spoke with Robert Evans of Margolis Healy, a campus-security consulting firm, to discuss how colleges should respond to swatting incidents. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Even if an active-shooter call is a hoax, the college must respond as though it’s a real threat. What is the right response?

From the time that the calls are received, whether it’s in dispatch or through the administrative lines, there has to be a quick evaluation of its credibility. The response has to be structured as if this situation is taking place, until the response can determine that it’s not. That in and of itself presents a variety of different challenges for faculty, staff, and students, as well as for the first-response organizations that are responding to these calls for service.

How can colleges improve their responses to potential active-shooter situations, keeping in mind that they could be real?

There has been a common pattern with some of the calls — it involves something happening in a building, or there is background noise that folks are hearing when the calls are coming in, or the calls are computer-generated. Colleges need to make sure that they are staying in touch with the evolving trends. They need to make sure that the alert notification takes place. But very quickly, if they determine that there is no credibility to the call, then the campus needs to be quickly informed of that as well. The risk associated with this is that you’ve got law-enforcement officers and fire and EMS personnel responding to these calls with lights and sirens at times. And there could be unintended consequences associated with that.

Read entire article at Chronicle of Higher Education