Remember all those bomb threats last year?

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Many of you may well remember that dramatic increase in bomb threats that occurred in U.S. schools during the 2016-2017 school year.  Particularly troubling was the rash of bomb threats that targeted Jewish schools and community centers in early 2017. Fast forward to this summer, when an investigation and arrest revealed the culprit behind many of those threats.

Police arrested Michael Kadar, an 18 year old American Israeli teenager and charged him with making more than 245 threatening calls to Jewish Community Centers and schools. But here’s where it gets weirder.

Kadar advertised a “School Email Bomb Threat Service” on AlphaBay, a now-shuttered online dark web marketplace. For $30 Kadar emailed a bomb threat to a single school, for $60 to multiple schools or a school district. Buyers had the option to frame someone for the threat if they paid an addition $15 surcharge. It is believed that Kadar made more than $240,000 in Bitcoin for his efforts. Satisfied customers wrote reviews that the threats were “Amazing on time and on target. We got evacuated and got the day cut short.”

Clearly not every bomb threat that occurred last year was a result of this bizarre service, but it does illustrate several important problems with bomb threats. First off, they are frequent, disruptive, and increasingly lull us into a false sense of security thinking that bomb-related incidents are always “just threats”. Secondly, bomb threats work when they can cause disruption and panic. The vast majority of school administrators have little training or expertise in how to manage bomb incidents and most often they are working with outdated or non-existent bomb incident response protocols.

Mr. Kadar made a great deal of money because his threats succeeded in disrupting schools, consuming the time and resources of emergency responders, creating anxiety among parents, and most dangerously creating a “boy who cried wolf” situation where explosives in schools are concerned.

The current school year isn’t starting off much better. So far in the first three weeks of August (when many schools aren’t even in session yet), more than 1/3 of all school safety incidents have been bomb related, with 14 threats and one detonation already.

Click to read more about this particular case and bomb threats in general.