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Boone County dispatchers train for ‘swatting calls’


When news started to spread nationwide Monday that six people had been killed in a Tennessee school shooting it appeared to set off "swatting" calls in districts around the state.

Swatting is the act of making a call to emergency services making a fake threat to bring large numbers of emergency responders to a location. Such incidents were reported Monday in places like North Kansas City and Springfield and have been recently reported in St. Louis.

A man was charged in Cole County last week for a swatting call not related to schools.

"With these swatting incidents around the state and the country, schools, especially high schools and 911 centers around the country, are receiving these hoax calls," said Chris Kelley, the deputy director of Boone County Emergency Management. "Obviously we have to treat them as real and be vigilant in response to those."

Kelley said Boone County has received one of these hoax calls in the past.

"Our 911 operators were very vigilant in talking to the individual who was reporting the incident," Kelley said.

Kelley said operators found inconsistencies while talking to the individual on the phone. Boone County Joint Communications immediately contacted the school resource officers at the school to confirm the threat was invalid.

Although the operators found holes in the report given by the caller, it is still policy to send resources including police, fire and EMS to the reported "scene" before it's clear that the threat is fake.

Kelley said 911 operators are familiar with certain buildings in Columbia as well as Boone County. This helps them when asking certain questions to an individual.

Questions are specific about the geographical location, giving operators the ability to flush out a potentially true versus false threat. These questions can help especially when an individual isn't actually in the building or is unfamiliar with the layout.

"A lot of our operators are familiar with the jurisdiction," Kelley said. "So the operators will ask distinct questions about 'where is this in the building sir?' A lot of the time with these fake calls they don't have specific information about those buildings. That doesn't stop 911 center or Joint Communications from sending a response."

Kelley said that no matter what, emergency dispatchers need to be vigilant and keep students safe.

"Our Boone County operators do go through a critical training on geography of the city, looking at building plans, they can see a lot of that information when folks call into 911," Kelley said.

And many of the operators live here, Kelley said.

"We have a lot of folks who are residents of Boone County," Kelley said. "Maybe they have children at that school so they're very familiar with those buildings."

Kelley said the swatting trend is sweeping the country, and partners in the FBI are looking into it and investigating these incidents.

"I know that our federal partners, our law enforcement partners and our Missouri School Board Association partners are really working with school districts around Missouri to ensure a good response from staff and first responders on these incidents," Kelley said. "I'm confident in our first responders and school staff across Missouri that they're being vigilant, investigating and handling them as if they're real and keeping our students and staff around the state safe."

The Missouri State Highway Patrol has a program called Courage2Report. This allows people to anonymously report tips regarding possible school shootings.

To report a threat you can visit Courage2Report's website, or to leave an anonymous tip, you can call 1-866-748-7047. The hotline is 24/7, and all callers are kept anonymous. Tips are shared with local law enforcement and schools as the proper course of action is decided.

Article Topic Follows: Crime

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Ethan Heinz


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