As America continues to struggle with mass shootings, another trend, called swatting, has recently put school principals, legislators, parents and students on high alert. K-12 schools and universities are experiencing a wave of false reports of school shootings and campus threats.
Swatting is where someone threatens to harm another person or institution, such as a school, through various forms of deceptive tactics such as claiming they are armed and dangerous or have access to weapons on school premises. The intention behind this type of hoax is often to terrorize the victim and tie up first responders. Even though these actions are hoaxes, they have shown to bring trauma and other devastating consequences for students, staff, and law enforcement because in the moment, the threats are very real.
Why Swatting is a Serious Problem
Swatting is a dangerous and criminal activity that involves falsely reporting a serious and immediate threat, such as an active shooter at a local school to law enforcement in order to provoke an emergency response–including SWAT teams, hence the name swatting. Swatting is not a harmless prank, but a serious crime that wastes valuable police resources, causes panic and chaos, jeopardizes innocent lives and can have tragic consequences.
The goal of swatting is usually to send heavily armed police officers to a public or private building. This alarming trend has been on the rise in recent years, as swatters use technology to mask their identity and create false emergency situations. Many of the calls received are computer-generated and use caller ID spoofing to hide the identity of the perpetrators, but not always.
Not only can this cause serious harm to the individuals being targeted, but it can also put their family members, neighbors, and first responders in harm’s way. In fact, there have been multiple instances where swatting incidents have resulted in injuries and even deaths due to chaos and confusion at the scene.
Calming the Chaos in an Emergency
Managing an emergency, whether large or small, the right way can mean the difference between a positive, peaceful resolution or a tragic end. AEGIX AIM was created to help effectively manage emergencies of all types from a flood in the cafeteria to school shootings to earthquakes. AIM, which stands for Active Incident Management was recently used during a major swatting hoax.
One week prior to a multi-state swatting incident, the AIM app was installed on the phones of all the administrators, teachers and staff at Spanish Fork High School. The Spanish Fork police department, sheriff’s department and fire department all are on the platform as well.
The police received a voice call saying there was an active shooter somewhere at Spanish Fork High School and two students had been shot. When the police arrived at the school, Principal Matt Christensen opened the app and hit “lockdown.” Upon hearing the alarm on their phones, teachers immediately were able to push a button in the app to report themselves and their classroom as “safe” or “unsafe.” If safe, their classroom shows up on the interactive map as green, if unsafe, it is red. Officers on the scene had access the maps, which meant they did not have to wait for information to be relayed to them, they could see in real-time which classrooms and buildings were marked as safe. If they were marked as unsafe, police would know exactly where the source of danger is in the school, saving precious minutes, which can save lives. The system also has a chat feature that proved absolutely critical during the emergency. Teachers and administrators were able to clearly communicate with each other to quickly account for every person on campus. Law enforcement could see this information and use the chat feature as a way to communicate with specific individuals or everyone on the system.
During the event, students were on their phones where they were seeing false reports and rumors that added to the terror, fear and confusion they were all feeling. Teachers were able to address the false information by showing their phones with the app to students and telling them, “This is what’s real, and this is what’s happening.” This served to calm the students in an extremely high-stress situation.
After about 30 minutes, the Administrative Lieutenant at the Spanish Fork Police Department used the app to inform teachers and staff that the active shooter threat was indeed a hoax and instructed them that officers would be coming to clear their classrooms and make sure everyone was safe.
Bart Thompson, Assistant Principle said, “I will say, for the 21 years I have been in education, the single most troubling thing to think about is an active shooter. On that day, we didn’t know it was a hoax. For 24 minutes, it was real—we had an active shooter and we had deceased students. As an educator and a parent, that day changed me forever. I can’t imagine doing what we did that day without the app—the trauma would have been amplified. Things like this have always been a ‘what if.’ After this experience, I can look a parent in the eyes and tell them we have the tools to keep your students safe.”