Swatting is the practice of phoning in fake 911 calls about life threatening situations and having SWAT respond to random houses, scaring the crap out of the occupants and often times doing thousands of dollars of damage, which the municipality has to pay for using tax dollars.
Earlier this year a gamer swatted what he thought was another gamer that he was upset with, but he had the wrong address and when SWAT arrived, they shot and killed the homeowner. The officers did not face any charges and 25 year old Tyler Barriss pleaded guilty and will be sentenced to at least 20 years in jail.
Not satisfied at making small amounts of chaos and killing small numbers of innocent people, authorities today were faced with hundreds of bomb threat emails directed at schools, businesses and government buildings. While no one was killed by police responding today, a large amount of police resources were wasted and police were likely diverted from responding to other incidents.
Some police departments, like New York, treated the bomb threats as hoaxes, but that could backfire badly if next time any of the bombs are real.
Some buildings were evacuated like city hall in Aurora, Illinois, the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, a suburban Atlanta courthouse and businesses in Detroit.
In the Denver area, Columbine High School, the site of one of the first mass school shootings (in 1999) and the genesis of a total shift in police response tactics to active shooter incidents, went into lockdown as sheriffs and bomb squad techs looked for bombs. That bomb threat was phoned in rather than sent by email.
Today’s events will likely give swatters more ideas and put police in more no win situations.
The FBI has mobilized a national investigation.
As a target of a swatting incident, the best advice is to remain calm and do as instructed by the police. Let them sort it out and deal with the fallout later. Since the police have no way to know if the threat is real and who the “bad guys” are, they, unfortunately, sometimes make mistakes.
In this case, building owners, in cooperation with police, sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies had to make decisions. Those decisions, if wrong, have the potential for catastrophic consequences.
It is interesting that different law enforcement agencies had different responses – from evacuation to shelter in place to ignoring the threat completely.
Since swatting has been around for several years and continues to be a problem for law enforcement, I suspect that this new version of mass swatting will continue that trend.
Police are not saying if they think today’s events are the work of one person or group of people or many, but I doubt that even if they arrest and prosecute a few people that it will discourage other crazies from trying it.
What is unprecedented in today’s activities is the scale – going from coast to coast and encompassing schools, religious institutions, government buildings and private businesses – over a hundred in all.
It seems likely that if this becomes popular that it is inevitable that people will die in the chaos.
Unfortunately, there is not much that you can do preemptively to avoid these situations. In the case of the Kansas man who was shot and killed by police, the emergency call was eventually traced to a phone in Los Angeles, but that took days to figure out. When police get a 911 call, they have to react in seconds.
It is likely that police and sheriff’s dispatchers are looking at options after today, but I do not see many good options.