The 12/10 bomb threats revealed the need of an overhaul in the Estonian crisis management system
The administrative and bureaucratic eagerness to avoid decision-making that has accompanied the wave of bomb threats that hit Estonia’s educational and public institutions shows that the central government is not prepared to respond effectively to a crisis, even in the case of theoretical hybrid threats. It was, in a way, a crisis exercise that exposed the delay in effective decision-making in our system, but also in crisis communication – that’s a problem.
On the morning of October 12, almost every parent in Estonia experienced a minor shock when they learned that their child’s school or kindergarten had received a bomb threat. The situation in which the wave of bomb threats that arrived on the night of October 12,¹ forced the educational institutions to decide by themselves what to do, is baffling in terms of the logic of the crisis chain of command. Although there was no real threat on this occasion, this stress situation revealed a systemic failure in the face of a sudden outbreak of crisis.
Situations arose where children from the same family were sent back home from school, but the younger children could happily go to nursery school in the kindergarten, that got the same threat. There were also cases where the school informed parents of the situation, but also cases where the head of the educational institution withheld information, leaving parents without critical information.
Addressing such situations can not be the sole responsibility of education institutions, the failure of central government to react quickly enough was also revealed. The decision to close or keep open the institutions and the crisis communication that went with it should have come from a coordinated central position, first thing in the morning and for all at once.
One could argue that local authorities are responsible for the provision of education, but when a crisis hits the whole country in the middle of the night, it is up to central government to decide quickly whether or not it is a serious situation (perhaps even a emergency situation) and what to do next.
In this case, EE-ALARM text message system could have been used to send a message that there is no real threat in the case of the bomb threat that were sent to hundreds of educational institutions, that its just a hoax. We have the system – why was it not used?
We have the system – why was it not used?
The answer may lie in the fact that, in order to use it, someone in the system has to actually decide that it should be used. And if anyone wants to argue that sending messages would cause more panic – it is quite the opposite, it is the absence of communication and confusion that causes the outrage.
The question remains why decisive steps were not taken. These bomb threats were an actual exercise of the kind in which previous scenarios were not foreseen in contrast to the recent CREVEX 2023 drill,² which received a great deal of attention (and was planned in scenarios long ahead). What has happened shows, at least in part, what real preparedness is or what happens, when instead actions taken, there is at least a partial paralysis of the crisis management system.
We should thank all the teachers, school principals and heads of educational institutions who were able to send clear messages to parents and the community in this situation. It can only be hoped that feedback from teachers and principals on how the processes evolved will be gathered as there is much to learn for the improvement of the whole system.
Last but not least, it is worth asking that if the central government is not able to do crisis communication in the case of bomb threats and to make and disseminate decisions in a timely manner, you can imagine what would happen in the case of an air attack threat. Today’s inability to manage crises effectively is life-threatening in the event of military aggression, this cannot be accepted.