Emergency Resources Diverted Due to “Swatting” Attempts
Mercer County Central Communications, the agency that dispatches 911 emergency calls to local jurisdictions, reported to the Office of the County Prosecutor that it has recently received a spate of false calls.
Referred to as “swatting” and derived from the law enforcement unit SWAT (special weapons and tactics), this type of hoax triggers the dispatch of emergency response service teams to another person’s address under the false pretense of a serious emergency.
Mercer County Central Communications reports it has received at least eight calls over two or three days falsely claiming, among other things, “pediatric emergency,” “unconscious child,” “cardiac arrest of a child,” “smoke reported,” “shots fired” and “shots fired in vicinity of school.” Calls were targeted in the Trenton and Hamilton areas.
The suspected calls filtered through dispatch in a variety of ways including Text 911 and 7-digit calls to local police. None were direct 911 calls. Dispatch reports that perpetrators often use a variety of technology tricks, known as “spoofing,” to hide the caller’s real location and trick emergency authorities into responding to a fabricated emergency.
Princeton was the target of several swatting incidents in recent years, disrupting Princeton Public Schools more than 10 times in 2015 and 2016.
“False alarms, ‘swatting’ and ‘spoofing’ are not funny pranks,” said Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes. “False alarms potentially divert emergency responders away from legitimate emergencies, which could ultimately lead to loss of life.”
Added Hughes, “Violators of the law will be prosecuted and Mercer County supports the County Prosecutor’s investigation into this ongoing dangerous situation. Swatting can be prosecuted through federal crime statutes and can carry steep fines.”