Schools have been plagued by fake bomb threats for decades. However, due to several real-life violent attacks on schools in recent decades, what used to be treated as an ill-advised prank and subject to administrative actions like suspensions and expulsions can now result in criminal charges and jail time.

A real bomb is always a possibility.

It isn't hard to make a bomb. Books like The Anarchist Cookbook, published in 1971, tell you how and are available through public libraries. Virtually anyone with access to the internet can find simple instructions on how to make a bomb from easy-to-obtain ingredients. The ease with which bombs can be made makes them a threat that has to be taken seriously, even though 90% turn out to be hoaxes.

Bomb threats have significant community costs.

Bomb threats get communicated in a number of ways. Some get emailed or phoned in. Others are written on the bathroom walls and left to be found. The immediate response usually involves disrupting classes, emptying out the school, calling in the police (including SWAT teams and bomb-sniffing dogs), and spending significant resources to make sure that everyone is safe. Once the immediate threat is passed, more money gets spent investigating the threat and trying to determine who is responsible.

Each threat is a huge expense. One Florida police department estimated that it costs the city around $5,500 every time a bomb threat gets called into a local school. Aside from direct costs that go to paying responders and investigators, school jurisdictions lose precious class time, and communities have their fire and police resources tied up until each crisis passes.

The hoaxers often don't realize the severity of the crime.

Most hoax bomb threats are rash decisions, made by people who don't realize exactly how much trouble they can get into. Some threats are called in by students who think that they are just pulling a harmless prank. Some students, like Harvard undergrad Eldo Kim, make threats because they want to get out of an exam. Many times, there isn't any clear motivation at all: someone may just enjoy causing a panic or feel like they're getting even with someone.

While the penalties vary from state to state, making a hoax bomb threat is often a felony, the most serious type of crime, which carries the potential punishment of more than a year in jail. Even juvenile defendants can expect to lose their driver's licenses, spend time in jail, and be forced to pay fines and restitution for the costs associated with investigating the threat. In states like New York, for example, the parents of a child who makes a bomb threat can be required to pay restitution of up to $5,000.

Hoaxers can also be sentenced under federal laws as well. These days, a hoax bomb threat leveled at a school can result in charges of domestic terrorism. If the hoaxer makes a "dummy" bomb to help make the hoax look real, the penalties can be even more severe.

Hopefully, you'll never have to worry about this situation. However, if you or your child made a mistake and made a threat, find a criminal defense attorney to help you right away.

For more information, contact Robert E Long & Associates Ltd or a similar firm.