A well-drafted model bomb threat plan, tested and evaluated with trained staff, will enable an organisation to promptly respond and help minimise loss
Warning: Terrorists will strike where it hurts the most
In his famous book The Little Drummer Girl John LeCarre wrote that the absolute terrorist is one who can blow up a room full of school children, without any remorse or hesitation. Abhorring as that might seem, the frightening recurrence with which such instances have occurred, necessitate corporate India to be prepared for the absolute terrorist.
Very recently, SIMI had threatened to blow up LIC buildings, a warning serious enough to mobilize the Mumbai police. In the past few months, many Indian companies in BFSI and IT / ITES sectors have been subject to hoax bomb threats. Though more often, the situation was brought under control — these incidents caused stress, confusion, and disruption of work and loss of business and / or credibility. Inarguably, the problem merits attention. However, there is a need to remain calm and follow the basic rules of security. Employee awareness, training, practice and evacuation drills help to avert disasters and increases chances of correct response in times of crises.
Dealing with bomb threats
A bomb threat may be received on telephone or through a written message. Experience shows that most of the threats received on telephones are hoaxes. However, till experts carry out a detailed search and come to that conclusion, the situation has to be taken seriously. Statistics suggest that one in a 1,000 calls may turn out to be genuine.
While administration and corporate security departments play a leading role in countering bomb threats, employees are often the first line of defense. A sound and practical bomb threat contingency plan ensures carrying out standardized drills and lays down specific responsibilities on all concerned.
Once it is decided to evacuate, the security manager should give wide publicity by announcements through PA system, CCTV, megaphone, etc. Do not use the word “bomb” as it may create panic and confusion. It is preferable to announce that “the area needs to be vacated — this is NOT a drill.”
The announcement should specify the evacuation route, guide, location of assembly area and the need for staying there still further instructions. Route and assembly area should be searched before announcement.
Evacuation instructions (dos/don’ts):
Ideally the organization should have practiced evacuation drills previously. If they have not—then these are some guidelines.
The announcer must remain calm, and advise the employees to follow the instructions. Similar announcements could be displayed on the monitors of CCTV, if installed.
- Walk out of the building in a calm and composed manner to the given location through the given route. l Do not run, it will cause panic among others.
- Do not use elevators/lifts or conveyors.
- Follow the instructions of the guide.
- Do not argue or talk with the guide. It will waste time and obstruct evacuation.
- Carry personal valuables, but do not stop to wind up work.
- Supervisors may need to switch off the machinery and power supply in their respective areas.
- Open all windows, doors and cupboards.
- Do not obstruct passage of search and rescue squad.
- Wait in the assembly area till further instructions.
- Do not spread rumors or speculate and cause panic.
- The supervisor must take attendance in the assembly area and if any employees/visitors are found missing, it must be investigated.
- Stay calm and listen carefully. Signal others around you to stay quiet and if possible pick up extension phones to listen in.
- Write down the number displayed on the caller ID display of your telephone.
- Get maximum information and prolong calls as far as possible. Pretend you did not hear correctly, ask the caller to repeat. Ask questions — location of the bomb, time to explode, what type of bomb, how can we get rid of it, who has placed the bomb, from where are you calling, what is your name, reason for placing the bomb—in that exact order.
- Try to identify background noises such as traffic, music, conversation that may help to determine the location from where the call is being made.
- Make an educated guess on sex, age, race, voice (loud, soft, pleasant, intoxicated) or accent, speech (fast, slow, nasal, slurred) and manner (calm, emotional, vulgar, angry, laughing, righteous) which may help identify the caller. Be advised that the caller could also be in an agitated state.
- Alert a colleague; report the call to your manager or security manager immediately.
- Fill up the bomb threat call check list.
- A bomb threat could also be in the form of a mail/written message. Report these to the security manager.
- Given the nature of blasts, it is impossible to predict the exact situation you could be in. However, here are some generic guidelines that could be of help.
- Depending on your distance from the blast, you could be in various degrees of consciousness.
- The first effect of a blast is a numbing disorientation. Try to get your bearings. If you are in a prone position, stay down.
- Try to remain calm. If you are conscious and can move yourself, examine yourself for injuries. Blasts commonly cause concussion and lacerations. The former causes damage to organs and bones and the latter causes bleeding.
- Be aware that there could be secondary blasts.
- Do not panic and create stampedes.
- Do not search through debris.
- If you are capable of it, assist others until help arrives
A bomb threat plan should be drawn up in every organization and tested to assess the organization’s readiness and ability to respond. This should be part of the incident management plan. If there is a real bomb threat or any emergency that requires evacuation, such efforts will reduce the damage. The organization, depending on its structure and nature of business, must draw out a model plan by assessing its risks, deciding on a policy and training personnel to implement it. The plan must be rehearsed and lessons learnt must be incorporated.
It is also advisable to carry out a threat assessment to prevent the organization from being an easy target for potential bombers.
Telephone operators and PAs should be trained in questioning techniques for extracting maximum information from the caller. “bomb threat check list” guidance should be available with them. Organizations should make arrangements for tracing and recording of incoming calls.
The organization must train security officers, maintenance staff and others in carrying out search and evacuation. A suitable area should be earmarked as assembly area.