Analysis of the 2017 Jewish Community Center Bomb Threats

Donald Trump’s February 27, 2017 speech before Congress set a new precedent.  It was the first time that bomb threats have been formally referenced in a presidential prime time address.  Is this significant?  I believe it is.  Feel free to make your own determination.

It was the fourth sentence into his speech.  Obviously, Trump thought the issue was important.  Or maybe his professional speech writers thought it was important.  Regardless, someone in the administration thought it was important.

Thank you very much.

Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice President, members of Congress, the first lady of the United States.

And citizens of America, tonight, as we were — as we mark the celebration of Black History Month, we are reminded of our nation’s path toward civil rights and the work that still remains to be done.

Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.

Over 100 distinct locations have been impacted.  These threats against Jewish Community Centers occurred in waves.  They were delivered in the form of a series.  January 9, January 18, January 31, February 20.  The latest succession came on February 27, the day before Trump’s congressional address.  The fallout has been notable.  Mass evacuations, disruption, chaos, etc.  Fear and paranoia become the norm.  Many parents have also pulled their children resulting in significant financial loss.  These are the typical consequences of sustained bomb threat campaigns.  I wrote extensively about the issue in 2013 when the University of Pittsburgh was plagued with a similar pattern.

There’s a striking similarity between the main page of my AGSAF website (Artificially Generated Stampede Awareness Foundation) and the CNN graphic regarding the recent saturation of automated bomb threats directed at Jewish Community Centers across the nation.

 

Is it just me, or does anyone see a conceptual equivalence?  Of course, my concerns are of greater magnitude and consequence.  Mammoth NFL stadiums vs. tiny Jewish community centers.  But the model is the same.

NFL security has an unwritten, unspoken “no evacuation” policy.  If they absolutely must, they’ve demonstrated a willingness to stage partial evacuations to the concourses for imminent threats such as lightning strikes.  But complete, full scale evacuations?  Uh, no.  And for bomb threats phoned into their operation centers?  Uh, most definitely no.

For the record, there have been many past incidents of bomb threats being called directly into NFL stadiums while games were in progress.  The National Football League is not magically immune to this problem.  Allow me to reiterate.  The NFL does not evacuate for bomb threat conditions.  Largely because it would establish a horrible precedent.  Now a bomb threat emergency might be a different story, but the circumstances would require a ridiculously high threshold of imminent danger and real-time evidence.  A prerecorded, masked robo-call isn’t going to be sufficient cause.

NFL stadiums are wirelessly hyper-connective environments.  A quick friendly reminder – virtually every fan has a cell phone capable of receiving instantaneous information.  And while the NFL does have a relatively futile protocol in place for handling direct bomb threats, they have absolutely nothing in place to deter threats from directly saturating everyone inside the stadium.  How do I know this?  Well, two reasons.

I.  Real-world monitoring systems do exist (Stingray technology, FPAT – Force protection Alert Tool, etc.).  But a system that separates bad/dangerous information from good/safe information, and filters it accordingly, in real-time no less?  That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.  Because if the technology did exist, phoned in bomb threats themselves would cease to exist.

II.  At some point, from an operational standpoint, it would be necessary to explicitly inform fans, “Please be advised, if an emergency evacuation is deemed absolutely necessary, it is NOT our policy to disseminate the order via your personal cell phone or mobile device.”  That’s because the established protocol requires using the public address in tandem with the video monitors.  NOT CELL PHONES.

The sad truth — Government and private industry just aren’t in the habit of voluntarily exposing themselves, particularly if there could be a serious consequences.  They also don’t actively seek out ways to limit their power or scope of authority.  Plausible deniability is a big part of it.  As is potential litigation.  The lose-lose proposition is very apparent.  It’s part of the overall catch-22…

If you acknowledge a problem exists, you own it.  And if something bad ever happens, you’re totally screwed… because you didn’t do enough to prevent it.  Quite the paradox, eh?  Just enough to keep everyone silent even though the ramifications could be unusually dire.

Americans should consider the possibility of an artificially generated stampede(s).  Scenarios involving cellular-driven panic are becoming more and more common.  Think of it in terms of a reverse flash mob.  Eventually, one of these days, someone’s going to try and perpetrate an act of this nature.  It’s simply the wireless equivalent of “shouting fire in a crowded theater.”  Nothing more, nothing less.

Here’s something to think about.  Regardless of the fallout, people would ask a simple question — “What the hell was that about?”  Even if there were zero fatalities and zero injuries, common sense dictates this news would leak to the general public… that someone was trying to synthesize a panic.  At this point, there will be two very distinct options.  Tell people the truth or deliberately maintain the status quo and dismiss the incident entirely.

If panic and herding instincts kick in, and a sufficient number of people unexpectedly gravitate toward the concourses or rush the exits… it will become a story.  There’s no way to hide strange happenings in the confined presence of 50,000 – 100,000 eyes.  That’s actually 100,000 – 200,000 eyeballs.  And don’t discount the ten of millions of individuals in living rooms, bars and restaurants across the country.  Human beings are visual creatures and modern stadiums have outstanding “line of sight.”  This dynamic extends beyond the action on the field.

One more thing.  With a conundrum of this enormity, humanity won’t get a second chance.