Active shooter hoaxes are spreading panic. Here’s how to fight back

'These false alarms are far from harmless,' says executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers.

Frightening active shooter hoaxes are striking district after district this school year in a disturbing trend known as “swatting.” But one way school administrators may be able to spot the prank is by the number of calls received, suggest officials at the National Association of School Resource Officers.

“In most active shooter events, 911 operators are inundated with calls from the shooting site,” the organization, also known as NASRO, says on its website. “Often in swatting situations, one call is received. However, law enforcement must continue to respond as if there is an actual active assailant event occurring as delays could lead to the loss of life.”

The callers behind these incidents intend to draw a heavy police response to a school, home, business or other location. This relentless spree of terrifying phone calls is forcing district leaders to lock down buildings and calm panicked students, staff and families.

“These false alarms are far from harmless,” said Mo Canady, executive director of the National Association of School Resource Officers. “They require high-speed responses with emergency lights and sirens that increase risks for responders and the public. They also divert limited public safety resources from other community needs and increase anxiety among students and others.”

There are a few steps administrators can take to confront active shooter hoaxes, according to a set of guidelines NASRO and Safe and Sound Schools released this week. They include:

  • If a building or district is the target of a swatting call, administrators should debrief with school community members to determine how the response can be improved. School leaders must assess “lingering adverse consequences,” such as the anxiety produced by lockdowns and the potentially overwhelming law enforcement response. These factors can be particularly disturbing for students who have suffered other adverse childhood experiences.
  • Administrators and school resource officers should talk to students and parents about how law enforcement will deal with a swatting call. School resource officers should also work within their own agencies to clarify swatting response protocols.

The organization cautions that, in the case of a swatting hoax, schools without SROs will have to rely on patrol officers, whose response may be hindered if they are not familiar with the school building.

Active shooter hoaxes

In the wake of the Ohio hoaxes, administrators in Princeton City Schools stationed additional counselors at its high school, which was the target of a false shooter report late last week. “Hoaxes like this, unfortunately, are happening across the country,” Superintendent Tom Burton said in a message to the community. “However, we take all threats seriously and act accordingly.”

Authorities in Ohio believe at least four of the calls were made by the same person, The Enquirer reported. The caller names the specific school and says a gunman carrying a rifle and wearing body armor is barricaded in an English class with students in “room 201”, according to The Enquirer. 

The rash of calls prompted a group of state lawmakers to propose making swatting a felony in the state and elicited this warning from the FBI’s Cleveland office:

Schools across Louisiana were also hit by a wave of swatting incidents late last week, reported.