A coordinated wave of bomb threats put nine North Jersey school districts on lock-down this week. And happily, they were a hoax. But they pointed out a big problem for schools in the middle of an emergency like that – the hoard of parents flocking to the rescue.
Even though many of the parents weren’t panicking or frantic, they still occupied the time and resources of authorities. Had the threats been legitimate, the man-hours eaten up by reassuring and simply dealing with crowds of parents could have meant the difference between life or death for students in danger.
Patrick Kissane is the executive director of the New Jersey Association of School Resource Officers, a non-profit organization for school-based law enforcement officers, school administrators and school security-safety professionals. He understands the urge of parents to want to be on the scene. It’s natural. But it is, he says, “one of the worst things a parent can do.”
In a best case scenario, a hoax like this one, dealing with unnecessary presences delays authorities from investigating and finding out if it’s real or not. If it hadn’t been a hoax, the presence of a crowd could have delayed emergency services from reaching students, could have allowed a threat to evade police, or created more victims.
Kissane says that in meetings with parents, people have always told him “I’m going in to get my child,” often with some force. Those people, he says, would endanger everyone, including their own child. Police occupied with crowd control are wasted resources, and every second spend reassuring an angry or frightened parent who absolutely cannot help the situation with their presence is a second that can’t be spared.
Every district and police department has their own plan for handling school threats and other emergencies like them. They communicate with parents. It is vital to let their plan play out, and not try to take it into your own hands – they will always have more information than a parent, and more tested tactics and resources.