How Authorities Determine Whether a Threat is Credible or Not

DES MOINES, Iowa  -- It's the one question on the mind of parents in Johnston, and throughout the state: Are my kids safe?

The question came to the forefront this week after Johnston parents began receiving text message threats naming their children and their schools.  After cancelling classes Tuesday the Johnston Police Department and school district both say the threat is not real.

“At this time, we cannot substantiate any credible or imminent threats to any of our schools,” said Johnston Police Chief Dennis McDaniel at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.  McDaniel repeatedly used the term “no credible threat" but how can authorities be sure?

It starts with a call to the experts at the Iowa Department of Public Safety's Division of Intelligence and Fusion Center.

“Once that happens, the real works starts with trying to determine 'does that person have the intent to carry out a threat and do they have the ability to do so,'” said Kevin Winker, Assistant Director of the Division of Intelligence and Fusion Center.  Winker won't go into specifics of the Johnston case but he says investigators start any cyber threat investigation by combing their national database. They search for trends, similar language or anything that can connect a case to a past one.

“Gather that information to see if this has occurred in parts of the country or parts of the world to determine if this was a valid threat or is it not,” said Winker.  They take all that information and put it through a threat assessment model.  That model will help them determine if the threat is credible or not.  However he says making that final determination is still very difficult.

“They have a vested interest in making the best determinations possible. I think as you’ve seen across the state they err on the side of caution,” said Winker.