A bomb threat
is generally defined as a threat, usually verbal or written, to detonate an explosive
or incendiary device to cause property damage
, death, or injuries, whether or not such a device actually exists.
Criminal statutes typically dictate
severe penalties. For example, the American state of Massachusetts provides for penalties of up to 20 years in prison, up to $50,000 fine, and restitution for the costs of the disruption. New York law makes it an "Class E Felony ... to issue a false bomb threat directed toward a school in New York State."
Some statutory definitions include the threatened use, release or placement of other harmful agents, such as poisons, biological pathogens, radioactive materials, or even a dangerous weapon
(e.g., aboard an airliner). Other statutes enhance the penalties for threats made against specific places or persons (e.g. government facilities or dignitaries), and the actual possession
of harmful devices or agents.
Many bomb threats that are not pranks are made as parts of other crimes, such as extortion, arson, or aircraft hijacking
. Actual bombings for malicious
destruction of property, terrorism, or murder are often perpetrated without warning
The decision to evacuate an area or building, depending on the perceived reliability of the threat, may be made by local controlling authorities or those in charge of the targeted facility
based on advice
from bomb disposal experts. When a large facility is involved, it can be very difficult and time-consuming to ensure the absence of any bomb or other hazardous device or substance.
During the Northern Ireland conflict, paramilitary groups used pre-arranged code words when making bomb threats, to add authenticity
to their claims of involvement. The codes would be updated regularly and provided to the police and the media.
Bomb threats are often called in at educational institutions, sometimes by students who feel under stress due to academic pressure.