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5 Questions with Bomb Threat Expert Sean Haglund

We sat down with Sean Haglund, who serves as the Associate Director for the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency’s Office for Bombing Prevention (CISA OBP) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). CISA OBP leads DHS’ efforts to enhance national security by building public and private capabilities to deter, prevent and respond to bombing incidents. During our discussion, he shared some valuable insights and advice on how utilities can be better prepared for bomb threats.

Q1: Why should utilities really be thinking more about bomb threats?

HAGLUND: We are currently facing a pretty significant elevated bomb threat level right now. According to the 2022 Explosives Incident Report, a joint product between CISA and the U.S. Bomb Data Center, we saw a 35% increase in bomb threats from 2021 to 2022. One challenge is the range of motivations. You can have terrorist actors, violent extremist motivations, criminal, mental illness and more. Because they are critical to our everyday lives, utilities are targets for those who want to disrupt society.

And while bomb threats may not be as common as other threats, the risk is certainly real. All of the materials that you need to build a very effective bomb are available at hardware stores, power supply stores or beauty supply stores—and information on how to build bombs is easily available online. So, the information and materials are there. And if there is one person who has the intent to act against critical infrastructure, then the threat is very real. We’ve seen many violent extremist groups on social media post threats of attacks against the electrical grid, and they have repeatedly urged their followers to use explosives-related tactics.

Q2: What do organizations often get wrong when it comes to dealing with bomb threats?

HAGLUND: Not having a plan in place and not exercising that plan is what we see most frequently. So, when a bomb threat is made and you try to execute under the duress of the moment, it is much more challenging.

There’s also a bit of a misconception about whose role it is to search for a potential device in the aftermath of a bomb threat. Typically, people think, “Law enforcement should really search my facility.” But If you think about it, the occupants of that facility are most familiar with what should or should not be present, what might look out of place or what might look questionable

Q3: How often should utilities be exercising their bomb threat plan?

HAGLUND: It depends on a variety of factors. If there are a lot of threats—for example, historically black colleges and campuses, K-12 educational institutions and religious institutions are seeing more threats than ever right now—you’d want to exercise your plan on a more frequent basis. Site managers and facility leadership also have to consider turnover or new people in your specific organization. If that happens regularly, we recommend an increase in threat preparation exercises.

For those who need guidance on this, CISA OBP has a readily accessible tabletop exercise specific to bomb threats that is a great tool to assist with this process and is a great starting place to create exercises for a bomb threat management plan.

Q4: What advice would you give to utilities to be best prepared to handle bomb threats?

HAGLUND: Utilities really should capitalize on relationships with their state and local law enforcement and their Fusion Center. Additionally, they should use what’s available from federal resources and law enforcement. CISA OBP has security advisors in the field that are a great information-sharing resource, and gathering information is really step one. Step two is training your team to know what suspicious behaviors and activities look like and what to do when they see them.

Q5: What resources does CISA OBP offer to help utilities be even more prepared for bomb threats?

HAGLUND: Our office provides a variety of resources that are focused on preventing attacks regardless of what the bomb threat motivation is. We offer several tools that help utilities identify and reduce vulnerabilities, as well as tools that not only minimize the consequences of an attack but also may deter attacks from happening just by exhibiting a robust security posture.

We offer help in the form of bomb threat checklists; training videos; courses; bomb threat guides; evacuation and standoff distance cards; insights into how to recognize a suspicious package versus an unattended package; and more. All of these resources can be found at