How to Respond to a Telephone Threat

Man listening on a telephone.
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Threatening phone calls can be traumatic affecting not just the person receiving the call but everyone in a home or office. Regardless of what kind of threat you receive, or who it's directed at, try to stay calm. Write down what the caller says and any details of his voice, such as slurred speech, a deep voice, calm or panicky. While many calls may be hoaxes, it's important that you take threatening calls seriously.

1 Personal Threats

If someone is calling to threaten you personally, the wisest course of action is to simply hang up. Under no circumstances should you give out any personal information about yourself, your family or your co-workers. Don't try to be witty or ask the caller questions trying to determine who he is. This only encourages the caller. Make a note of the call, including the time, exactly what the caller said and, if you have call display, the caller's phone number. Report the incident to the police and, if the call happens at work, tell your manager. If threatening calls continue, contact the police.

2 Threats at Work

If you get a threatening call at work, try to determine if he is threatening you personally, someone else or your organization as a whole. If it's a personal threat, hang up. If it's a threat against someone else or your office, talking may actually help to defuse the situation. The West Virginia Judiciary recommends asking five questions. Begin by asking who the caller is talking about and why he's saying these things. Then ask if there is another way to help the caller. Ask the caller for his name and phone number and then confirm he is really threatening someone. Report the incident to your manager and the police.

3 Bomb Threats

If you receive a bomb threat, or any other terrorist threat, try to keep the caller on the phone. Signal a co-worker who can call 911 on another line. The FBI recommends writing down exactly what the caller says and details about the sound of his voice. Ask the caller where the bomb is located, what it looks like and when it will explode. You should also ask what kind of bomb it is and what will make it detonate. Finally, ask the caller the reason for the threat. Follow police instructions and be prepared to evacuate the building. The LA police department reports that only 22 percent of the bomb threats it responds to actually involve live devices.

4 Follow-Up

Some employees may require counseling or time away from work to help them recover. Some victims may blame themselves for the incident or become unduly critical of their reaction. Fear and anger are common reactions to such phone calls and some people may find themselves lashing out at co-workers. A day or two after a threatening call, it may help to have an office meeting to discuss the incident, how it was handled, how such calls could be handled in the future and how employees are coping.

A published author and professional speaker, David Weedmark has advised businesses and governments on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years. He has taught computer science at Algonquin College, has started three successful businesses, and has written hundreds of articles for newspapers and magazines throughout Canada and the United States.