With Tuesday’s blitz of swatting incidents stretching across Florida, it doesn’t seem like the phenomenon will slow down anytime soon.
Since the beginning of April, at least 27 higher education institutions have received a call of an active shooter, hostage situation or bomb threat, only for it to be fake or unfounded once police reinforcements arrived on the scene. This number reflects the date of this publication. Moreover, it’s an issue plaguing the entire education sector. In the 2022-23 academic year alone, the Educator’s School Safety Network discovered 417 swatting or accidental reporting incidents in higher education and K12 as of April 26.
Swatting incidents are usually carried out by anonymized callers reporting an impending emergency from remote areas from campus. The FBI speculates that many of these calls might be coming from foreign actors. For example, an entire residence hall at MIT had to be evacuated following a bomb threat. At Harvard, armed police officers raided a student residence hall after a reported hostage situation.
While only an illusory issue, school communities are forced to approach every call with the same level of precaution. The string of swatting incidents follows the recent deadly shooting at Michigan State University and the stabbings currently haunting the University of California, Davis.
Safety officials and legislators are beginning to map out how to deal with the rise of swatting incidents, but how some big-brand universities have recently handled these unfounded calls has sparked tension in the community. For example, in response to Boston University’s swatting incident, the second alert the school gave students about their potential active shooter was to stop calling BU about the threat and await the next update. The Harvard community was equally “outraged” by the lack of communication given to students. However, officials believed the Harvard University Police Department’s actions aligned with law enforcement protocol.
Although the nature of swatting makes it difficult for law enforcement to identify them, it isn’t stopping one official from intimidating any future perpetrators. Last week, one Pennsylvania lawmaker proposed legislation to make those found guilty of swatting responsible for compensating the cost of first responders tending to hoax calls.
Some officials believe we need to change our conception of swatting incidents entirely. Kelly Nee, BU’s chief safety, security, and preparedness officer, believes that swatter should be charged under terrorism statutes to increase their level of punishment and oversight. Amy Klinger, of the Educator’s School Safety Network, believes in something similar.
“We have to shift our thinking from these as being, ‘Oh, it’s just a bad joke or a threat’ to being, ‘These are attacks, and they truly are attacks.’ And we need to treat them as such, in terms of our investigation and in terms of our consequences, because they have really significant—a really significant impact on kids and schools. And so we have to treat them as the serious problem that they truly are,” says Klinger, according to PBS.
Here are schools that have experienced a swatting threat since April at the date of publication:
- Harvard University (Mass.) April 3
- Rider University (N.J.) – April 3
- Cornell University (N.Y.) – April 4
- MIT – April 5
- Valparaiso University (Ind.) – April 6
- Rutgers University (N.J.) – April 6
- Clemson University (S.C.) – April 6
- University of Central Florida – April 7
- University of Oklahoma – April 7
- Southern Utah University – April 8
- Boston University – April 9
- Syracuse University – April 9
- Wake Forest University – April 9
- University of Nevada (N.C.) – April 9
- Middlebury College (Vt.) – April 9
- University of Pittsburgh – April 10
- Collin College (Texas) – April 12
- Baylor University (Texas) – April 12
- Galen College of Nursing (Texas) – April 12
- Tyler Junior College (Texas) – April 13
- Hamilton College (N.Y.) – April 16
- Florida International University – May 2
- Arizona College of Nursing (Florida) – May 2
- Indiana River State College (Florida) – May 2
- Santa Fe College (Florida) – May 2
- Palm Beach Atlantic University (Florida) – May 2
- University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus (Florida) – May 2