Bomb Threats

Workplace Bomb Threats Are a Real Threat in Today’s Climate

By Kent Perkins

If your company hasn't experienced a bomb threat by telephone or by some other means, consider yourself lucky. Chances are, if you're in business long enough, this unpleasant event will happen. Sometimes it's nothing more than a disgruntled ex-employee, a current employee trying to manipulate time off, or a random "sicko" having fun at your expense. Other times, the threat could indeed be real. Regardless of the situation, the threat is still considered extremely serious and criminal.

California Penal Code Section 148.1 makes it a felony to falsely report the planting of a bomb. Whenever a bomb threat is received, it should be reported to local law enforcement immediately. In other states, the laws are similar; bomb threats should always be treated as crimes.

Every business should have procedures in place that cover what to do in case of a bomb threat. Any threat should be taken seriously and businesses should be prepared to suspend regular work hours and procedures as necessary to ensure the safety of employees, customers and other innocent bystanders.

It is a good idea to conduct a meeting and discuss these issues with management staff or employees. Taking a proactive approach helps an organization to be better prepared and plan for the future. Educating and preparing employees on how to act and identify these threats is a key to success.

There are two distinct types of threats that are usually received. They are either specific or nonspecific threats:

  • Specific- These are the least common, but the most credible. The caller will provide details on location, appearance, time set for activation and the motive behind planting the device.
  • Nonspecific- Information is basically a simple statement that a bomb has been placed. No other information is available.

If You Receive a Bomb Threat, Call 911

No Bomb Threat Can Be Discredited without an Investigation

Threat on the Phone

Although threats can come in almost any form (letters, memos, writing on a wall, e-mail, etc.), most threats come over the telephone. A strict and consistent procedure should be followed. The person who receives the threat must record as much information as possible. Contingency arrangements may allow a call to be traced.

As you read this article, you should download and print our BOMB THREAT TELEPHONE PROCEDURES CARD and place one such card at every desk where employees receive incoming calls.



Use common sense: if the threat is very specific and a short time is indicated before the bomb will explode, it may be advisable to get everyone out of the building as quickly as possible and let the police do the searching.

When an unspecific, less than imminent bomb threat is made, an initial search of the building should usually be conducted in one of three ways.

  1. A covert search of the entire premises by management, supervisory, or administrative personnel.
  2. An overt search of the entire premises by trained teams developed by management.
  3. An overt search of the entire premises by employees in their working area.

Each method has its own criteria for speed and thoroughness. This should be weighed against the potential risk involved. A search by employees of their own work areas is the most thorough type of search. A system can be set up for each employee to search his or her area overtly or covertly on a predetermined signal (do not use electronic or radio equipment to signal).

NOTE: The local police and sheriff departments will assist in searching, and may insist on being accompanied by an employee. The Manager of Safety and Compliance or Building Maintenance Manager is usually designated for this chore, but it could be anyone with good knowledge of the building's layout.

Instructions to the people conducting the search should be clear, but always remind them:

  • Do Not Touch a suspected device - - - Immediately report a suspected bomb device to the Police!
  • Do Not Assume it is the only device planted in the area.
  • Do Not Change the Environment: Do not turn on or off water, gas or anything with electricity.
Searches should cover: The search should be systematic, encompassing the entire room:
  • Public access areas
  • Evacuation routes
  • Lobbies
  • Restrooms
  • Hallways
  • Stairwells
  • Main office areas
  • Floor-to-waist level
  • Waist-to-chin level
  • Chin-to-ceiling
  • Inside and above false ceilings

Note: Searching a false ceiling may be physically impossible. Leave this to a trained search team that has been developed by management.

Remember: If a suspected device is located, do not touch.

Contact the supervisor in charge and the Police.


During a bomb threat, the decision to evacuate is made by the owner or the manager.

This decision may be determined by a number of factors:

  • Category of warning, specific or nonspecific
  • Prevalence of bomb threats in the community within a recent time frame, and any previous publicity
  • The possibility of carrying out an effective search without evacuation

You also need to consider how much of an evacuation is in order:

  • Complete evacuation
  • Partial evacuation
  • To an internal area
  • To a safe outside area
  • No evacuation

When total evacuation is chosen:

  • It is imperative to search evacuation routes before evacuation is undertaken.
  • Have people taken to an area away from the premises to avoid possibility of being struck by debris.
  • Use the same exit plans as you would for fire alarms with supervisors possibly remaining behind to search the premises.

If a suspicious device or package is located, law enforcement will direct the evacuation.

Letter/Parcel Bomb Detection

At times, the postal service is used to deliver explosive devices. This is a threat that can be minimized by training people to detect if a package might contain explosives.

If You Suspect a Letter or Parcel Might Be Explosive: Do not touch or further handle it. Isolate the area and contact a supervisor for appropriate assistance. Remember, alertness could save your life.

Typical Signs to Watch for in Letter or Package Bombs

  • Unusual or unexpected point of origin, an indecipherable address or no return address at all
  • Inaccuracies in your address or in titles
  • Unusually restrictive markings that are not a normal part of your business dealings (for example, "personal," "to be opened only by," "do not delay delivery")
  • Excessive weight or thickness for envelope or package size and/or excessive postage
  • Improvised labels or obviously disguised script
  • Unusual odors
  • The feel of springiness
  • Metallic components or stiffeners in letters, protruding wire, string or metal foil
  • Oily or greasy stains on packaging or excessive wrapping, binding and taping materials
  • Small holes
  • Unbalanced or lopsided letters and parcels

Every business is susceptible to bomb threats. Having an articulated and predetermined method of responding will make this event less traumatic, and could save lives.

You can reduce vulnerability to such threats by installing "Caller ID" on your Company phone system, and can take this another step by blocking callers with "caller-ID blocking" from having access to your phone system.

Please make sure everyone who uses your Company telephones to receive calls from outside the Company has an opportunity to read this document, and is equipped with a Bomb Threat Procedures Card from this article.

About the Author:

kent-perkins-photoKent Perkins is a managing partner and executive investigator at Diversified Risk Management Inc., Los Angeles, a full-service investigation firm specializing in labor and employment related investigations and risk mitigation consulting services.