Niagara Gazette

February 13, 2014

DELUCA: Bomb scare tweets

Michele DeLuca Commentary
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — There were bombs all over the place Monday — but only if you believed what you read on some social media sites.

What actually happened was someone called police that morning and said there were bombs in two area high schools. Niagara Falls High School went into lockdown and Niagara-Wheatfield High School students were evacuated.

Some community members have since complained that NFHS should have been evacuated but I was told Wednesday by Falls Deputy Superintendent Mark Laurrie that police had information that the call came from around the Hyde Park area and were concerned the caller might have been trying to get students out of the building with deadly intent.  

Laurrie, whose youngest son is a freshman at NFHS, said that his level of concern for his son’s safety was paramount but equal to his concern for the other 2,000 children in the building. He knew following police instructions would keep students and staff as safe as possible.

The good news is that lockdowns are the new fire drill, Laurrie told me. The staff and students have rehearsed for such events and performed perfectly, classroom doors locked, instruction halted, kids and staff out of sight from windows and doors. 

One of the officers on the scene asked Laurrie, “Where did you put all the kids?” The building was so quiet, the officer thought the school had been evacuated.

I’m betting that during the silence, kids took their phones out to pass the time. While school policy calls for phones to stay packed away during classes, it’d be crazy to think that the kids and staff didn’t get them out to keep their minds off the potential of a chilling outcome.

And while all parents had been alerted by an auto-phone system, the texting and tweeting seemed to provide enough extra information to the community to keep people outside of the school relatively calm. As such, Laurrie said, parents didn’t rush the gates to pick up their frightened children. And, after two hours, when it was determined that there was no threat, kids went back to worrying about things like hockey practice.

However, as those texts were spreading through the region like a digital wildfire, the story grew. Suddenly there were references to bombs placed in other locations in the city, including Walmart and Target. A third school, Hyde Park Elementary, went into lockdown later Monday when someone called the school to say they’d heard there was a bomb there as well, Laurrie told me. 

Clearly, the wonderful ability we now have to instantaneously communicate with others — when we need to do so — has changed all our lives, but obviously such connectedness has its downside.  

With all that texting, tweeting and posting, community terror was amped up by the spread of bad information. It doesn’t take a crystal ball reader to know that in a crisis situation, good information can save lives but bad information can be deadly.

In retrospect, it leaves some of us wondering how to better use this extraordinary connective power. The Gazette’s staff talked about this in the newsroom Tuesday, in agreement that instant communication certainly has its place in news gathering.  

However, as journalists, our job is to confirm with creditable sources before we post information. We share the news as we confirm it on our website, Facebook and Twitter accounts, bit by bit over the course of an event. Not everybody providing information has the ability or the interest to make sure it’s true. So, when something is posted beyond news sites you’ve come to respect on the Internet, it’s important to remember to take it with a grain of salt.  

Threats and emergencies are typically unexpected. At such times, people desperately need information. But that’s when it’s most important to remember the age-old rules of communication: Don’t believe everything you hear or read — and always consider the source.

Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.

Contact Features Editor Michele DeLuca at 282-2311, ext. 2263.