Thursday, March 6, 2008

Why We Shouldn't Listen to Bomb Threats

This goes out to any and all who deal with policy towards a bomb threat, and to settle the stomachs of those who hear of a bomb threat. I've noticed that in a lot of my experience in conversing with people about the bomb threats that many say that the administration is overreacting to the situation in pulling everyone out of class and essentially killing the day, by wasting everyone's time. However, whenever such an intuitive reaction is brought up someone responds with the cliché, "Oh well they have to take the necessary precautions." I'm here to tell you that evacuating 100% of the time given the conditions of a bathroom threat is beyond the necessary precautions.

I'm going to assume that if someone is going to use a bomb they either have two motivations: to fulfill their sadistic desires to kill as many people as possible or to make a statement of some kind (it is possible for these to intersect, but as you'll see it doesn't matter).
Now if they are a sadistic killer and want to kill as many people as possible, then they would not even bother to make a threat because that would be counterproductive in achieving their goal. Sure enough, in the three most recent mass killings, Columbine and the Virginia Tech Shooting, no threat was made prior to the acts of violence.
A statement by the bomber simply means that the bomber is committing such an act to communicate something, in other words, he is bombing for more than his own sadistic motivation. If the bomber is trying to make a statement, then he will still either want to kill as many people as possible in making that statement or try to kill as few people as possible (or none). In the case of the former, the same logic still applies that applied to the sadistic killer and so no threat would be made. However, if the bomber wanted to kill as few people as possible (or none), he most certainly would make a threat.
There is no reason why a killer trying to kill as many people as possible would make a threat or why a killer trying to kill as few people as possible (or none) would no make a threat. 9/11 is a perfect example as no threat was made, yet those who committed the horrific act were clearly acting beyond their own sadistic intentions.

This means that if a bomber is making a threat, he is trying to kill as few people as possible (or none). The only variable in a bomb threat left to analyze is the nature of the threat, since we already know the intention of the bomber. If a bomber is trying to kill as few people as possible, then that bomber will make sure that his threat let's those that are in danger know that they are in danger. Think of someone holding a mall full of people at ransom, it wouldn't make sense for him to make a threat that does not make it clear that he would mask his intensions because if he were not to achieve his goal of receiving the ransom money that would make his attempt at bombing pointless. The only way he could achieve receiving his ransom money is to let someone who could pay the money know of his intentions. This means that, if there is a threat, then that threat has to be strong and clear enough to let those in danger know they are in danger or else it can be assumed that the threat is not valid.

Writing a message that there is a bomb in a school on a bathroom wall is not an adequate, clear, or strong threat of any kind. It can then be assumed that such a threat should not be taken seriously. However, to react to such a threat in the same way 100% of the time would be poor judgment in either overreacting or under reacting. This is because this allows those who threaten to know the outcome of his actions, which would reinforce one's decision in making such a threat. By making the outcome of one's decision unpredictable, this decreases their confidence in such a decision and makes it less likely they will make such a decision. It would be best to evacuate from a threat of this nature 50% of the time (decided on a coin toss).

Of course, I just want to reinstate that if a threat is strong and clear, it most definitely should be taken seriously.

I also want to state one exception to the rule, if someone is so sadistic that they put a weak threat knowing that there would be no response, so that after they committed their bombing they could say "I told you so." However, such a scenario is addressed by the coin flip decision to evacuate or not. Such a sadistic person would not risk such an action in this case because they would jeopardizing their true desire to kill people and so they would resort to a guaranteed surprise bombing.


jjones said...

brian, you and I have be friends for while, and i always enjoy the frequent debates you me and lou tend to have, whether political, social, or otherwise. maybe this is because i like debating, or I agree with you most of the time. I'm afraid I have to admit I am only posting now because of the former. To be honest I'm still trying to figure out if you posted this in jest. Coin tosses? No serious threat? If i were a cop i would suspect you of PWI; posting while intoxicated.
On a more supportive note, I was impressed with you're argument about the two motives of those who write bomb threats and what actions they therefore take. However my support begins and ends there.
Back to my rebuttal. If the person or persons who wrote the bomb threat were serious on any note, they would have an interest in being taken seriously. Most terrorist attacks are planned because the attackers ideas are not being listened to or taken seriously. (I dont know if you read the record review, but there was an article about a week or two ago about a fox lane graduate in their early 20s who was an active environmentalist and human rights activist and such etc. that organized a meeting with a few fellow activists to plan a bombing, claiming that at the time she thought is was the only way they would get people to listen to what they had to say. look it up, i kid you not. These people had a clear message that they wanted to get out, and were willing to blow shit up to get people to listen.) If the authors of the bomb threats scribbled on the walls of fox lane high school or and school for that matter wanted to be taken seriously, they would not be all words. They would try to plan to, and might be successful in blowing shit up.
It should therefore be a no brainer to evacuate the whole school in a orderly and timely fashion each and every time there is a bomb threat. Because you can do all the math you want, you can flip as many coins as your heart desires, but you will NEVER be absolutely certain that there really isn't a bomb in that locker you just walked past, or in that stall next to the urinal you just pissed in. Taken shit like bomb threats lightly, or seriously only 50% of the time, is utterly ridiculous. I believe that even if out of 200 bomb threats only one was real and followed up on, every single one of those 200 was worthwhile. It would be an atrociously negligent decision on the administration's part to ignore bomb threats all in the name of saving one day of school. It would be an utterly fucking abominable decision. hah get it, aBOMBinable. haha i crack myself up.

theonlybman said...

James you bring up a good point. However, you talk about those who write bomb threats to be taken serious, I agree completely, which is exactly why they would not just write their threat on a bathroom wall. Once again I can't state enough that if the threat is clear, it must be treated as so. In this case the person who wrote their threat on the wall was not serious, because its pointless to have a vague threat written on a wall. By making a vague threat like that, they are trying to disupt the general school environment without having the specifics to back up their threat.
Think about it like this, if someone sends you a death threat saying, I'm going to kill you at some point in time. Though this threat is extremely serious, it probably won't be carried out (this is in the case of a single death threat, if there are mulitple ones from multiple sources well then I'd have to say otherwise). But, if there is a single death threat that is so vague, its purpose is to instill fear in you. However, you needed be afraid because such a person has no intention on actually killing you. If they wanted to kill you, why would they be so kind as to let you know and prepare yourself before hand. Or, if they wanted to control you through their threat by perhaps telling you not to show up some place or follow through with some action why wouldn't they specify that so that they're goal would be accomplished. The Mafia doesn't just send vague death threats to people, they tell people that if they don't follow along with their process then they will be killed (there are exceptions to this in Mafia affairs, but most time the Mafia would kill someone out of a personal vendetta they probably wouldn't be kind enough to let them know). Bottom line is, respect a threat to the point that it is respectable. That's the law of nature, why shouldn't it apply to school bomb threats.

jjones said...

Brian, as I sat here in my old tattered desk chair formulating a solid response, I realized one major linchpin that holds your whole argument together.
Although I could go on in further depth elaborating on my previous post, I am going to deliver this fatal blow to you're argument now, so as to give it a relatively quick and painless death.
You, like economists when model building, are assuming that everyone is rational, that everyone functions like everyone else, that everyone, when placed in a certain situation under certain circumstances, will make a predictable decision.
How do you account, therefore, for psychopaths, manic depressives, the mentally challenged? How can you be certain that a psychopath didnt scribble that note in the bathroom; a psychopath who doesn't give a shit about sending a message, being taken seriously, or any of that stuff. A psychopath of this sort could be culpable in scribbling a threat, and then according to you, irrationally following through and blowing up the school.
I assure you there are plenty of mentally unstable people amongst the student body of fox lane high school. People of these sort are unpredictable, and are another solid reason why threats of all sorts should be taken seriously. People of these sort are another reason why it is worth every effort to make the school as safe as possible, even if it means evacuating the school when there is in fact no bomb. Because lets face it brian, you will never know if there will or will not be a bomb in the backpack of the kid sitting in the swastika in the library, or a gun in the pocket of that kid laying down in the nurses office, complaining of a headache, a headache caused my the imbalance of chemicals that will cause him to massacre 30 people in the commons 10 minutes later.

theonlybman said...

James, once again I must say that you have a great point here (though I do address it in my original post). I would say, use your judgement. If something seems psychopathic and disturbing then by all means override my advice and evacuate. However, the policy I propose only applies to predicable petty vague threats such as the one today. Even so, judgement must be used, but that is what I am calling for judgement.

As I said before, if someone is so sadisistic that they want to kill many innocent people, then well is evacuating really even going to help. Clearly whoever such a person is, is going to find a way to kill people and they most likely wouldn't cause an obstacle in their goal. Though such a person is totally unpredicable and possibly very irrational so in that case anything is possible.

The key here is for the administration to use judgement. Not to blindly follow a rubber stamped procedure for all similar situations.

jjones said...

there is no time for judgement, thats the thing. When you see a bomb threat, animal instincts tell you to get the fuck out of there, not sit down and analyze the factors that might determine whether a threat is legit or not.
The judgement is the dogs sniffing the classrooms. The judgement occurs after everyone is out and safe.

theonlybman said...

It's the job of adminitrators to keep calm and collected and properly deal with a situation such as this. For years school adminitrations did not react to such bomb threats and for years there were no school bombings. Perhaps if it is a first time thing, then it is proper to just evacuate.
In the case of Mahopac and Fox Lane where we have very recently experienced threats of similar nature which turned out to be empty. Then, that certainly opens up the door for judgement.

jjones said...

Every threat should be treated as if it is a first time occurrence. Basing your actions in response to the next threat on the trend of previous threats doesn't make sense. If your saying that there is a chance serious things might occur on a first time occurrence, then there is that potential in every occurrence. Who knows, it might be a group of kids joking around with these recent threats just trying to get out of class, but how do you know that another individual isn't gonna make a serious threat, breaking the trend?
Basically what I'm saying is there is a risk factor every time you choose not to take a threat seriously, and in this situations (i think this situation in particular epitomizes the cliché), it's better to be safe than sorry. That risk factor is definitely not worth taking just so you can continue one day of school uninterrupted. The benefits of ignoring a threat are measly when placed next to the benefits of evacuating every time. By evacuating every time you ensure everyones safety, which the administration by law is required to do. The law cannot be bypassed by one particular school or district because it has a history of hollow threats. The law was created for a reason, and was created by smart, knowledgeable people who I'm sure took situations like this into consideration.