DOS Attack Against Los Angeles Schools

Yesterday, the city of Los Angeles closed all of its schools—over 1,000 schools—because of a bomb threat. It was a hoax.

LA officials defended the move, with that city’s police chief dismissing the criticism as “irresponsible.”

“It is very easy in hindsight to criticize a decision based on results the decider could never have known,” Chief Charlie Beck said at a news conference.

I wrote about this back in 2007, where I called it CYA security: given the choice between overreacting to a threat and wasting everyone’s time, and underreacting and potentially losing your job, it’s easy to overreact.

What’s interesting is that New York received the same threat, and treated it as the hoax it was. Why the difference?

EDITED TO ADD (12/17): Best part of the story: the e-mailer’s address was

EDITED TO ADD (1/13): There have been copycats.

Posted on December 16, 2015 at 6:28 AM69 Comments


3rensho December 16, 2015 6:51 AM

“It is very easy in hindsight to criticize a decision based on results the decider could never have known,”

I was wondering what GW was up to these days.

Evan December 16, 2015 6:57 AM

Your original article on CYA security is interesting, because it correctly identifies the threat model CYA defends against. CYA isn’t effective against terrorism or other random violence because it isn’t meant to be – public safety officials’ primary threat model is media reaction, and that’s what they focus their defensive efforts on. It’s the same with officers shooting unarmed civilians: the main question isn’t how to prevent people from getting shot, it’s to avoid being lambasted in the media over it.

Don Monroe December 16, 2015 7:20 AM

It was surreal, in the GOP debate last night, to hear Chris Christie cite the LA school shutdown as evidence of the need to be tough on terrorists. He seemed to be completely clueless that the stress and worry suffered by children, mothers, and fathers was a direct result of the overreaction, not of the threat. It was especially ironic since the students in NYC, next door to his home state, were spared this suffering for the same threat.

Joe K December 16, 2015 7:56 AM

@ 3rensho

“It is very easy in hindsight to criticize a decision based on results the decider could never have

I was wondering what GW was up to these days.

Responsibility == Power

It is quite telling, how that quote presumes to locate
responsibility, and hence power, in some unaccountable
institution rather than in the individual parties who directly stand
to directly benefit (or otherwise) from the decision to go to school.

Allen December 16, 2015 8:23 AM

“It is very easy in hindsight to criticize a decision based on results the decider could never have known”

He’s absolutely spot on there. In hindsight its very easy to call this CYA security. For a moment have we considered that maybe “potentially losing your job” wasn’t the primary motivating factor? Can we at least acknowledge that part of the motivating factor for the decision just may have been not wanting to risking the lives of 1000+ children? Let’s not dehumanize the LA officials by suggesting that this is purely political.

If this happens in LA with about 700 thousands students its going to make the news. But schools being closed due to bomb threats is the standard procedure. It happens all the time in small-town USA for much less credible threats then this one. I remember it happening to my elementary school at least twice, and that was before 9/11. What special resources does LA PD have that small-town PD does not? What special resources do we really want them to have?

What makes this one different is the scale of the closures. Clearly cities like LA need a more robust process for dealing with situations like these. Clearly some lessons need to be learned. But choosing not to endanger the safety of the public is the right call 10 times out of 10. It doesn’t matter how many people are temporary inconvenienced.

Time Zone December 16, 2015 8:32 AM

I wonder how much of the difference between NY and LA was due to timezones…

The email threat in NY was received at the beginning of the workday, providing time to make a sound judgement.

Assuming the threat in LA was received at the same time, the recipient would have been sleeping, thus losing three hours of reaction time

Mark Perew December 16, 2015 8:41 AM

Poster Allen is correct that public safety is the correct call. What goes unexamined is how to evaluate public safety. What happens in those single parent families where there is no one to watch the kids? What happens when that parent loses much needed income from having to stay home with children? What happens when children are left home alone because that parent must work today or get fired? What happens when kids have to stay home with an abusive parent? The public safety question is not simply about bomb versus utopia.

Piper December 16, 2015 8:45 AM

I’d like to see the exact content of the threat, together with a list of the specific criteria that led them to label it “credible”.

Because, really, it seems like the sole criteria is “does it look like a threat?”.

A couple months ago, Wilfred Laurier University here in town was locked down the same way. Some maladjusted teen in the UK posted a goofy remark on 4chan, the internet’s best-known font of credible wisdom.

A Thousand Cuts December 16, 2015 8:55 AM

The terrorists are starting to figure out that they don’t even need bombs and guns. All they need is a few well-placed emails and phone calls and maybe few dummy packages and our overreactions will handle the rest.

It’s much like how the human immune system often causes more problems by its overreaction to threats. The inflammation is often what kills or maims.

It wouldn’t take much to shut down a lot of our infrastructure for a few days, which is a big hit to the economy.

We have to get better at risk management.

Jon December 16, 2015 8:58 AM

Don’t worry a fix for CYA to save your job security measures is in the works.
We are making it not worth the effort to have and maintain a job that you might get fired for simply for using common sense.
Soon all those jobs will be taken over by robots and terroristic threats will play those robots through a mechanism similar to twitch trying to install arch linux.

Me December 16, 2015 8:59 AM

To me the heartening thing is how NY lambasted LA for being over-reacting yellow-bellies.

If we start punishing the milksops for their cowardliness, we might grow a collective spine. That would be a fine day.

Chris December 16, 2015 8:59 AM

So since we are lambasting them in comparison to the NYC reaction can we first have an assesment of the actual plausibility associated with each bomb threat? Because I feel it’s irresponsible name calling to criticize their reaction in comparison without first comparing the threat they faced and the information available to them to make the decision.

BoppingAround December 16, 2015 9:05 AM

Looks like they are learning. Last time, that lad who wanted to postpone his finals sent a bomb threat to just one school.

No idea if someone wanted to skip something this time though.

Bardi December 16, 2015 9:20 AM

By the time NYC figured out what it was, 9 AM, it was too late to stop school. LAX got the word about 6 AM.

What bothers me from a security standpoint is the apparent lack of communications, a siloing of information that really should be instantaneously spread throughout the country, presuming our “leadership” really cares about security.

paul December 16, 2015 9:29 AM

I wonder whether any kids or adults died as a result of the cancellation. In a population that large it’s not entirely improbable.

Not Enough December 16, 2015 9:30 AM

On CYA security:

I often tell myself, “They don’t pay me enough to say yes.”

If they paid me enough to cover my expenses if I get canned because of some witch hunt that wasn’t even my fault, then sure, I might say “yes” if the risk analysis warrants it. But witch hunts that end with the security guy packing up his office seems to be the norm.

Therefore my default answer is almost always “no.” That’s because I have a mortgage, two college tuitions to pay for, a retirement fund to build and a career to protect. And I don’t trust the Board to not look for a scapegoat in the event of a breach.

Clive Robinson December 16, 2015 9:56 AM

What’s interesting is that New York received the same threat, and treated it as the hoax it was. Why the difference?

I’m guessing everybody knows “The boy who called Wolf” story and how it ended?

Likewise I guess people know the “The authorities have to get it right every time, but the terrorists only need get it right once” argument?

Now ask yourself if you were a terrorist hoe would you bleed your enemy dry?

You have the choice of attacks,

1, Hoax.
2, Almost Gaurenteed to fail attack.
3, Full on attack.

A Hoax (1) has three purposes – it make news, it tests response and it wastes the enemy resources. All for next to no cost or risk. The important point is “it tests response” to formulate plans for either type of physical attack (2,3).

An almost guarenteed to fail attack (2) has the same three purposes but it can cost quite a lot at higher risk. The point to watch out for is that “it test respones” as well as modifying them which could be a precursor to a Full on Attack (3)

The full on Attack (3) gives the news covarage, considerable harm and expense and will change the enemy responses for a while, if not permanently. The cost is high for the terrorists and they want it to work, so they will have used quite a bit of planning of which the Hoax (1) or more correctly “information attack” gets considerable intel.

Now the question is as the enemy how do you keep things the terrorists do to “information attacks”?

It was a question that faced the UK Government when PIRA started attacking London. Their choice was “carrot and stick” They encoraged the media to give more news to minor infrastructure attacks where there were no deaths etc and to give as little media as possible to more serious attacks. For quite a while afterwards the attacks ended up against infrustructure for trains in South London with nobody killed or injured. Then there was an internal bust up in PIRA and it split into factions one of which decided on a “show stopper” attack. The result was the “ring of steal” which can still be seen around central London.

Thus you can see that the authorities are stuck with a problem outside of just CYA they have to not just balance the finances they also have to keep the public safe, part of that is descelating potential attacks beyond the current one. You know the terrorists are going to succeed at some point, the question is what sort of success do you want them to have “media news, and limited infrastructure damage” or “blood guts and other body parts across a city block”?

The think people forget is some terrorists are rational in their behaviours. They understand ROI and “sunk costs”, but they also need funding. The trick to defending against them is to stop their funding. Part of that is to change their ROI and “sunk costs”, because as their enemy what you do to increase their ROI whilst reducing their “sunk costs” will be the direction they will tend to go in. As the defending enemy you have to realise the more the terrorists have to spend to get publicity the more damage in terms of carnage they are going to do. Thus rationaly you have to ask what costs your society most blown up infrastructure or body parts all over the place?

Bare in mind that for the terrorists guns and bullets are cheap, easy to get and reliable and take few brains to use. Bombs however are actually comparatively expensive, hard to do and unreliable, thus take brains to do.

The other thing is keep the “Generals and their industrial friends” out of the loop, there advice is likely to be very self serving which is just going to raise your costs with near zero benifit. Or worse in the US negative benift, because the militarirs old toys get given to the civilian Police… Do you realy want armourd vehicals, high power rifles, machine guns, and poorly trained cops with “Rambo equaliser” dreams running around your streets looking to defend themselves at any cost?

You need to invest yoir defence resources wisely, training first responders in good life saving skills turns an otherwise negative investment into a positive investment directly. Investing in first responder equipment to do certain types of searches and rescues likewise has positive investment returns. The number of ordinary road deaths each year in the US dwarfs the number killed in 9/11 with appropriate investment of a fraction of the “homeland budjet” you could cut the number of US road deaths by 15-20% by doing that…

Which is not what the War Hawks want to hear they want “Xmas every day” so they have new fad toys to play with and disgard every day and the Tax Payer to be Santa Claus. As many parents know Xmas is expensive and new fad toys often break before the end of the day, whilst the old toys last for years and years.

Nerd Uno December 16, 2015 10:32 AM

Just wondering how many of the Sandy Hook or Columbine parents would have complained if the police had offered to “CYA” and close their schools on those dreadful days. Monday Morning Quarterbacks have rarely played football.

JB December 16, 2015 10:49 AM

Interesting point, Nerd Uno.

The Sandy Hook and Columbine shooters did not make (public) threats prior to going on their rampages. (For that matter, neither did the recent San Bernardino or Planned Parenthood shooters, or the Aurora movie theater shooter, etc). Perhaps that says something about the likelihood of public threats being carried out.

SoWhatDidYouExpect December 16, 2015 10:49 AM


It is unlikely that terrorists would send a message for #2 or #3 in the attack list. That doesn’t preclude the possibility of a real attack being preceded by a warning. It just increases the difficulty of the decision.

The NY response was uncalled for. They should have offered support for what was done in LA, and shared their feedback behind the scenes for what they did, perhaps even to the point of not disclosing they received a warning, or even going public at all.

If the same warning was received at both ends of the continent at the same time, it was likely a test to determine responsiveness. NY failed the test.

Matt December 16, 2015 11:01 AM

Where I used to work, there was a question slip under my phone to fill out in the event I ever received a bomb threat call. If I ever did get one, I would have filled out the slip, then reported the bomb threat to the building supervisor, who would then most likely have evacuated the building.

Why would I participate in this overreaction? I know the bomb threat isn’t real, but I wouldn’t want the threatener to wind up calling someone else and saying “I called XXX, but he hung up on me.”

Brad J December 16, 2015 11:07 AM

Worth mentioning – LA just recently had a significant terrorist incident quite close by. They’re a bit more on-edge than NYC right now.

Daniel December 16, 2015 11:11 AM

Poster Allen writes, “Can we at least acknowledge that part of the motivating factor for the decision just may have been not wanting to risking the lives of 1000+ children?”

The reason we cannot assume that is because it is an irrational assumption. The proper definition of risk is “probability times loss”. Allen asks to focus on one aspect of that calculation–loss. But in order to calculate the risk we need to know the probability of the act. The problem is that the probability of the act here is zero. What is the evidence for that claim? I defy anyone to identify even one situation where an e-mail bomb threat has been followed by an actual bomb. It has never happened. So even if we assume that the values of the lives of 1000+ children to be infinite the probability of an attack in this situation is “zero times infinity” and the result of that calculation is zero.

So it is irrational, crazy, clinically insane to argue that the person who made the decision to close the schools was making an risk assessment based upon the threat to 1000+ children. That person most manifestly was not because the risk to those children was zero.

So something else is going on, and Bruce at least points us in the right direction.

Ipswitch December 16, 2015 11:19 AM

@Nerd Uno

It’s very easy to point to worst cases, and then say, “See, this is what happens if you don’t take action!” But it is also extremely disingenuous.

The “worst case” for walking out your front door is that you are assaulted and horribly killed. Yet it would be both idiotic and wrong for the government to have officers forcibly keep you in your home because of the threat posed by violent crime.

Responses to threats, be they the low-probability threat of terrorism or high-probability threats like automotive accidents and disease, need to be considered on a rational basis.

boog December 16, 2015 12:00 PM

What would they do if they received threats like these every day?

How long would they have to shut down all the schools before criticism is no longer “irresponsible”?

kiwano December 16, 2015 12:31 PM


Easy with the zeroes and infinities there.The values we’re dealing with, though very small and very large, are almost certainly non-zero and finite. I mean the probability of the PA system at one of the schools turning into a Boltzmann brain is non-zero under our current understanding of physics, and I’m pretty sure that an actual threat is more probable than that.

Likewise, we can probably put an upper bound on the value of a child’s life somewhere around the cost of the cheapest child-life-saving intervention that we don’t routinely perform. Even the cost of making sure that all the nation’s swimming pools–including private/home pools–have a lifeguard on site 24/7 is finite, and it’s pretty much guaranteed to save a lot of kids from drowning. I realize that you were using infinity as an upper bound and this particular point supports your argument, but I’m criticizing your mathematics, not your argument.

It’s good that these values are non-zero and finite, because the result of trying to multiply zero by infinity isn’t zero, it isn’t anything at all: infinity is not a number so multiplication by infinity isn’t really defined. There are an assortment of infinite mathematical objects that admit numerical manipulation, but it’s a large enough assortment that you can find one that gives you pretty much any value you want, when you multiply it by zero. (Recall that 1/0 can be treated as infinite, as can 2/0, etc.–in the right setting, you can multiply these by zero, have the zeroes cancel out, and be left with whatever number you chose as the numerator).

wumpus December 16, 2015 12:34 PM

I’m pretty sure there have been credible threats posted on 4chan. The typical “threat” resembles “don’t show up at [school/work/other target] if you live in [large area] on [specific day]. Others: watch the news that day.” The “threat” is meant more of proof of intent and bravado, and is widespread enough to avoid any ability to impede their rampage (presumably the only way the killer gets any attention for his killing while still alive).

I think there have been at least two “mass” shootings that followed this pattern. Can’t say there is much to take from this. Those *chans are a hive of scum and villainy that will supply both the “terrorist hoaxers” along with the real terrorists.

Marcos El Malo December 16, 2015 12:37 PM

Part of the LAUSD and the LAPD’s challenge here is the difficulty in corroborating or debunking the threat, due to the geography of Los Angeles and the school district. L.A. is spread out over a wide area, as is LAUSD. See this map:

The timing factors into this: in NYC, where school was already in session, school administrators can be asked if there are suspicious packages or backpacks for the police to investigate. In L.A., where the school day hadn’t yet started, each school campus was a potential bomb site. You don’t want to send in civilians to check it out for you, you want qualified first responders.

Marcos El Malo December 16, 2015 12:42 PM


Would it be correct to say that infinity is a property of a set? (I’m not a mathematician.) afaik, you can’t multiply or divide by a property.

Allen December 16, 2015 12:45 PM


A point that you have conveniently side stepped was that evacuating a building or buildings that have received a bomb threat is the standard operating procedure across the country. When in doubt nobody gets fired for following the SOP. But is that SOP a bad one? Is it really uninformed in terms of basic risk management? Lets punch in some “real” numbers to see what I was neglecting to consider.

Based on some 2002 insurance numbers 90% – 95% of bomb threats are hoaxes. Statistics available via some quick research did not adjust for the medium of the threat delivery. These insurance numbers will have to suffice as a model using this equation.

Average US lifespan is 78.74 years or roughly 28,750 days. High school students are usually under 18 so lets weigh the loss of any individual student at 22,185 days of life.
Bell Senior High in LA had 4,263 students in 2012.
Lets assume a 50% fatality rate, that’s ~2132 dead kids. 47,298,420 days of human life lost.

Over 700,000 people were evacuated, so lets call it an even 2 million people lost 1 day of their life over a stupid hoax to adjust for parents losing work and such. Lets say evacuation cost was 2 million days of life, lets say wasted but not truly lost. Most of those people were only inconvenienced.

5% of 47,298,420 is 2,364,921 days of human life lost. This is greater then the 2 million day cost of evacuation. Evacuations was therefore cheaper in terms of human life then risking a 5% chance this was a real threat.

Notes: Doing this math felt disgusting. I’m not an expert. I hate
Monday morning quarterback’s. We could argue these numbers all day. The hoax percentage in schools is clearly higher because : kids are dumb. Loaded assumptions about arcane risk abound.

1SQ December 16, 2015 1:00 PM

If the threat were “very specific” as claimed, it would have been a simple matter of sending officers to the location(s) described in the email and looking for the item(s) described. Given that LA decided to just unplug the whole system (and that NYC got the same email), this claim is completely bogus and is just an attempt to make the overreaction seem reasonable.

A specific threat is more credible but is also easier to verify and mitigate. Hoaxes like these seem to be vague, which makes them impossible to verify and leads to CYA overreactions like these.

Daniel December 16, 2015 1:18 PM

@Allen, kiwano

Both of you are conveniently sidestepping the issue. I used zero because the probability in this case is zero. Allen tries to jog around that by looking at a broader class of threats but that doesn’t fly because the LA bomb threat was not a member of a larger set–it was a very specific type of threat whose odds are zero, based upon past experience. Adjusting the frame of reference to get the results one prefers is just the type of post-hoc rationalizing that Bruce is condemning.

@kiwano. zero is undefined. So I agree with the rest of your analysis because it doesn’t matter whether the result is undefined or arbitrary–in either base the result is irrational (with irrational being used in the psychological and not the numeric sense.)

albert December 16, 2015 1:38 PM

It’s not clear to me how the perps could be identified. It was a bomb threat. Was it ISIL, or some kids wanting a day off? Does it matter? No harm done in either case.
I don’t see any meaningful discussion on the actual costs of evacuations due to bomb threats. An empty school is zero threat to students, as opposed to even a 1% chance of the threat being carried out. While the reactions of administrators may be CYA, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that they don’t want anyone hurt of killed. I’m not sure I would want to live with that on my conscience.

The rise of actual terrorism (as opposed to these cases) world-wide is a deep systemic problem, in which gun control, surveillance, LE issues, and (Heaven help up) psychology are largely irrelevant. Clearly, psychotic* individuals have existed throughout history, but I submit that the leaders of any terrorist movement shouldn’t be labelled ‘crazy’ as if that explains their behavior. It doesn’t. Most of these folks are ‘normal’, ‘rational’ people driven to abnormal, irrational behavior by a variety of stimuli. The subject is complex, and solutions aren’t forthcoming any time soon, but certain steps can be taken to mitigate the situation. {insert rant here}

*a small step up from ‘Devil possessed’, but not much more meaningful.
. .. . .. _ _ _ ….

jim December 16, 2015 1:39 PM

With all the really serious threats to kids in school: automobile accidents, MRSA, gang violence, rogue drone attacks, encryption, bicycle helmets, bullying, and now terrorism it’s a wonder they hold classes at all.

Piper December 16, 2015 3:15 PM

I think the report said the student that was killed was on his way to school, because he was unaware it was closed. So, he was doing exactly what he would have been doing even without the bomb-threat, and probably would have been killed either way. So, it’s not appropriate to describe his death as part of the cost of either the threat or the school closures.

albert December 16, 2015 3:44 PM


So besides an irrelevant argument, let’s hear about those non-zero costs.

. .. . .. _ _ _ ….

A C December 16, 2015 5:01 PM

As someone who is on the safety committee at a southern California school, I have been following this issue pretty intently. A few observations:

LAUSD is HUGE. A district wide closure at LAUSD is on par with closing a large county or whole states school system. If you applied the lost day for each school to one school, it would be closed for more than 2 years.

We are not talking about clearing one building because of a threat, or one school, but over half a MILLION students, across more than a thousand buildings. That’s more than the population of Iceland.

So yes, the standard playbook says that if you are in a building and there is a threat, you empty the building. It does not say you evacuate the surrounding county, at least without a pressing threat.

That is one of many reasons Bratton called out LA for overreacting. He’s also harping on some of the same people who forced him out of LA.

Some links to basic LAUSD info:

Mark December 16, 2015 5:12 PM

@Neo, standard operating procedure for the IRA was to plant a time bomb, then call in a bomb threat giving plenty of time to evacuate the area.

Thunderbird December 16, 2015 5:16 PM

What makes this one different is the scale of the closures. Clearly cities like LA need a more robust process for dealing with situations like these. Clearly some lessons need to be learned. But choosing not to endanger the safety of the public is the right call 10 times out of 10. It doesn’t matter how many people are temporary inconvenienced.

If I have a one-room school with ten students, I probably never get a bomb threat. If I have a really big district I get a threat every day. If some rando calls and says “I put a bomb in a building somewhere,” do you shut down every school on the planet? Better close all the government buildings and businesses too, because “not endangering the safety of the public” is job one.

As the size of the system goes to infinity, the rate of prank calls is going to do that too. If we don’t want to waste ridiculous amounts of resources (time, money, etc.) we always need to be prepared to ignore “threats.” That, after all, is why we’re not spending a trillion dollars a year building an asteroid-interception fleet.

Sancho_P December 16, 2015 5:33 PM

We can’t stop the world every day.
We have to cope with the future.

Society must learn that the reaction to a threat is not the crime.
It is a crime to terrorize people by brutality, by action. [1]

Similar to kidnapping there must be a basic understanding our society must agree to:

a) There can’t be any broad reaction without confirmation / facts.

b) Those who have to decide and react are not the criminals.
We, the society, must protect and stand by them, whatever happens.

The point isn’t math / busines$$ / costs, it is common sense.

“Tomorrow several kids will be killed by our nation and allies.”
And who cares?

We must understand this is a main factor in real terrorism: Us terrorizing others.

Arclight December 16, 2015 5:50 PM


The costs of evacuating all of LAUSD are multiple and not just monetary. Whenever staff are diverted from their normal tasks, there is an opportunity cost associated with it.

They could have been doing anything else that would have benefitted students during that time. The massive amount of police resources that were drafted to search 1,000+ buildings could have been out on the street responding to crimes. The investigators assigned to this case had to push other investigations to the back burner in order to deal with this.

And the success of this e-mail attack at provoking such a reaction has already inspired copycats:

There is a mental health cost to this, and there is also a cost in terms of “alert fatigue.” It’s simply not feasible to go through this exercise very many times without people and systems breaking down.

And even if we believe that safety decisions shouldn’t ever involve money, they absolutely do. Money spent on a one-time response is money that can never be spent on other safety measures. I’m sure the total costs involved could have paid for more LAPD resource officers, better mental health services for students, or upgraded fire alarms at some of those campuses.


Dirk Praet December 16, 2015 5:53 PM

When the Belgian government locked down Brussels for several days, it was because there was credible evidence that one of the Paris attackers had not blown himself up but instead had returned to Brussels, most probably still in possession of his bomb vest.

In this here case, there was an email with a plot straight from Die Hard with a Vengeance. In NYC, someone probably remembered that. In LA, they didn’t and decided to let themselves be terrorised. 650k people evacuated. I guess that’s what you get from 15 years of fear mongering by your own leaders and IC.

me December 16, 2015 7:43 PM

@Dirk Praet

Don’t forget, it’s not just simple “fear mongering”… it’s “think of the children” and even “all your children will die immediately if we don’t become a dictatorship worse than Hitler as fast as we are able!”

It convinces me that there’s something that’s causing widespread insanity among almost all leaders…

Dirk Praet December 16, 2015 7:51 PM

@ me

It convinces me that there’s something that’s causing widespread insanity among almost all leaders…

S*x, money and power.

Some Dude December 16, 2015 8:34 PM

conspiracy theory: there was an organized dissent plot amongst students in the event the mistrial in bodymore was an aquittal. This allowed the authorities cover to gather intel on the dissenters by throwing their cells, err… lockers (do kids even still have lockers these days?)

In general I would hope the far future humanity will look back upon this as naive folk adjusting to the reality that soft targets must be made into hard targets. And that the evolution away from centralization was perhaps slower than ideal. Mostly unrelated the socioeconomic model of vastly disparate earners combined with this system of masses of low earners keeping their offspring with the government eight hours a day might be viewed as suboptimal as well.

ugh December 16, 2015 10:31 PM

@Some dude:

“Soft targets must be made into hard targets”?

What the hell does that even mean? Western nations are covered in large numbers of soft targets. Making them into “hard targets” without turning these nations into police states is impossible (and even if it wasn’t, it would be economically infeasible).

Consider the U.S. for example. It has about 100,000 schools, over 45,000 shopping malls, at least 5,000 movie theatres, and hundreds of stadiums used for college-level or professional sporting events. There are at least 700,000 child care facilities (daycare) across the U.S. There are over 16,000 businesses employing 500 people or more. What would it mean to “harden” all of those targets?

And what about infrastructure. There are over 7,300 power plants in the U.S. And of course the U.S. has more than 230,000 miles of railroad track, and at least 157,000 miles of highway roads, and over 600,000 bridges. There are about 160,000 public systems to supply drinking water.

No, it is for all practical purposes impossible to “harden” all of the soft targets. A much better course of action is to spend our resources on investigation (disruption of attacks before they occur) and emergency response (mitigating the aftereffects when they do occur). For example, when the Boston Marathon was bombed, doctors and other emergency responders, were better prepared as a result of post-9/11 efforts to improve their response capability, and they ended up saving a lot of lives that day. e.g.

albert December 17, 2015 11:28 AM

@Arclight, etc.

I don’t disagree with your points, but I say ‘So what?’. We can afford the monetary costs, up to a point. It’s what happens afterwards that worries me. Children and adults who participate in bomb threats, swatting, doxing, etc. are paving the way for a more draconian police state then they could imagine. In that respect they are similar to organized terrorist groups. It’s the same for the mass shooters.

What can be done? Catching and punishing the perps might help. If you had a 99% chance of being caught and jailed, you probably wouldn’t be making bomb threats, etc. Mass shooters are the poor man’s version of suicide bombers. They are a more extreme example of the deep systemic problems with our culture (which I haven’t the time or the inclination to discuss here; It’s even more OT).

@ugh, etc.
‘Infrastructure’- one of those things I’m always babbling about. Not to worry, if you have as much experience talking to walls as I have.

Of course, the 362,87 kg gorilla in the room is forced personal identification systems, the end of internet anonymity, and militaristic control of border crossings (OK, that’s three gorillas).

The standard corporate philosophy here is monetize, evaluate, and decide. If corporations decide that implanted ID chips aren’t bad for business, it’ll happen, I guarantee. And whatever they decide, we’ll pay for. What a system!
. .. . .. _ _ _ ….

bill December 17, 2015 1:52 PM


I’m not surprised that there would be a rash of copycats to anything that’s dead simple to do and suddenly gets lots of attention.

Jordan December 17, 2015 7:21 PM

I just realized something deep.

That poor kid who got hit by the truck was not killed by the bomb hoax, or by the evacuation that resulted.

He was killed going to school.

Going to school has been proven to occasionally be fatal. It’s a pretty good bet that he wasn’t the only child killed going to or from school this week, somewhere in the country.

This can lead to only one conclusion: We must stop children from going to school!

Nick P December 17, 2015 7:34 PM

@ Jordan

Epic observation! I think I’ll contact Department of Homeland Security to suggest they pay an emergency visit to Department of Education immediately. Before someone else gets hurt!

Brian December 17, 2015 9:10 PM

I think you need to cut these folks a little slack. There was a horrific incident a few miles away at a county office for disabled people of all places. In retrospect it turned out to be a hoax, but people in charge of thousands or millions of kids understandably are a little jumpy given the context.

Nick P December 17, 2015 9:52 PM

@ Bruce

I’m going with CYA or just stupidity. Stupidity because bomb threats are both very common and extremely rare to mean anything. It’s even a trick that’s been used by students to avoid going to school. Usually for the laughs that people are dumb enough to evacuate the school and/or terrorize the students with searches of their belongings plus interrogations. I got to experience that in a small town school’s first bomb threat. Trolling student with a quick payphone call or whatever. Then we’re all being searched with the bright rebels getting interrogated by police. I told them “you realize it’s probably a prank. A real killer wouldn’t give anyone hours to leave & probably just bomb it without specific warning.” Got further “disciplinary action” for that comment “worrying other students and being insensitive.” (rolls eyes)

These things go back at least a decade with probably thousands of them happening year after year. The number of actual bombings is pretty close to zero AFAIK although I’d like to have a simple report with the numbers. Not bombs found in schools, as that’s over a 100 a year & mostly harmless, dumb kids. I’m talking intent to murder, building suitable device, threatening, and using it. Such a threat that’s almost all false alarm should be ignored without significant evidence it’s credible. Otherwise, they’re not protecting students from terrorists: they’re just terrorizing them (or hurting their eduction). Like they did me for three hours mentioning the realities of prison should they find what they “might find.”

Green Squirrel December 18, 2015 2:11 AM


Remember the good old days of 10p terrorism?

It seems it got more expensive to do it on a phone but an awful lot cheaper to do it by email.

Green Squirrel December 18, 2015 2:12 AM


I think there have been at least two “mass” shootings that followed this pattern.

Which two mass shootings took place after a generalized email threat?

Clive Robinson December 18, 2015 4:12 AM

@ Greensquirrel,

Remember the good old days of 10p terrorism?

It actually went back to the “push button A” days with the old Southern Irish phones in the early 1960’s when a local call was the price of a pint… How times have changed.

Do you remember the DTMF warning messages to newspaper offices so that Paddy O’Bomb did not have to say anything?

Mic Channel December 18, 2015 5:56 AM

Someone already pointed out that a hoaxer used to know that it was easy to evacuate one school, but that was the limit because you wouldn’t be believed if you claimed more than one school. What we’ve now quite effectively taught the hoaxers is that they can now play for an entire county of schools – and at even less risk to themselves. We have really hoist ourselves on our own petards.

The other point is that real terrorists wanting to cause deaths (as opposed to merely probing the system) are hampered by security responses which don’t make the target population more vulnerable. So we don’t automatically evacuate a building because that puts a thousand people in an easily-determined location which is more vulnerable than the inside of the building. In this case, it would always have been a better choice (from the prospective bomber’s point of view) to kill people unannounced than to announce it first: therefore it was guaranteed to be a hoax.

But CYA is a real fear (and a legitimate objective for any terrorist) and no-one sees CYA as doing the terrorist’s work for them. Sad to say,

Green Squirrel December 18, 2015 6:11 AM


“It actually went back to the “push button A” days with the old Southern Irish phones in the early 1960’s when a local call was the price of a pint…”

That predates me 🙂 At least you make me feel young 🙂

@Mic Channel

“In this case, it would always have been a better choice (from the prospective bomber’s point of view) to kill people unannounced than to announce it first”

This is the crucial point. Anyone who calls in advance and says “I am going to do something bad” is probably not really going to do it. With Irish Republican terrorism there was a slight difference because of their focus on infrastructure damage rather than loss of life, but this isnt yet true with current terrorist groups.

If someone says “I am going to attack a school in LA tomorrow” we shouldnt respond to that in anyway. In current trendy parlance it isnt actionable intelligence and it certainly cant be corroborated with anything else.

It feels like people have been educated by TV shows which have evil superterrophile criminal gangs making all kinds of dire warnings before they do BADSTUFZ. Real groups dont do this.

Marcos El Malo December 18, 2015 11:39 AM


You kids today have it easy. Back when I was a lad, we were crushed by a steamroller everyday on our way to school.

albert December 18, 2015 2:33 PM

@Marcos El Malo, @Jordan,

At least you guys didn’t have to deal with kicking horses and buggy wheels.

. .. . .. _ _ _ ….

Steph December 21, 2015 8:41 AM

The reason the NY school district had to attack and ridicule LAUSD is because they knew that the media would immediately jump on them for not going into full panic mode. The leading local news found several parents who were happy to fearmonger “I don’t want my kid to be put at risk, they should shut down the whole thing whenever there’s a threat even if they don’t think it’s credible”

ianf December 21, 2015 10:24 AM

@ Steph, sounds plausible, but let’s not forget the 3 hour time zone difference L.A. to #NYC… New York allegedly received the same threat when the schools already started the school day, so evacuating all pupils would have created a much larger & unruly potential “bomb footprint,” than having them stay put. Then again, the budgetary situation in NY might be different than that in CA, Orange(?) County, and the honchos knew that they couldn’t pay for all ensuing overtime without cutting on some other, more essential, programs… acquisition of Afghanistan-grade Black Hawk helicopters to combat urban crime? (don’t ask me, I’m not in the appropriations board).

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