There was no danger, except for threat of emotional trauma inflicted on hundreds of young people and the total waste of a four-hour chunk of their precious time.
Cumulatively, that represents more than a year taken out of their lives.
Surely, most of our anger has to be directed at the pathetic nothing who, according to news reports, called 911 to say there were men with guns at Bethlehem's Liberty High School. Some anger, however, should be aimed at those who played into his hands.
City and state police, plus the FBI and other authorities, stormed to the school early Wednesday afternoon, it was reported, surrounding it and blocking off access while they searched the building and individual students.
"The students were huddled against walls in their classrooms with the lights out," one story said, and the school was locked down for nearly four hours as hundreds of terrified parents, some of them crying, lined the streets.
"Some students were screaming and crying," The Morning Call reported on Thursday, as uniformed officers waved real guns and conducted unwarranted searches of every student and every book bag.
This was not North Korea. Ironically, it happened at a place called "Liberty." And what would've happened if police had not gone into their Barney Fife hysteria mode?
Absolutely nothing. There was no danger, no strife between students or staff, no gunmen (except for the police), no problems of any kind except for the ordinary stress of meeting scholastic expectations.
Wednesday must have been one of the best days that creep who called 911 ever had. Hoax mission spectacularly accomplished.
There will be "better safe than sorry" bleating from legions of hand-wringers. They'll say obdurate security is always justified, no matter how much it instills chronic fear while subverting freedom. "They have no choice but to react as if any threat is a real situation," said local security consultant Adam Christmann.
My background includes years working in the most extreme security the world has ever known — as an Air Force nuclear weapons technician in what previously had been called the Manhattan Project. I know what real security is and what it can and cannot do, and I know what a farce this week's display of hysteria was.
It was reminiscent of a 2005 incident at Oley Valley High School, where, in a typical senior prank, Matthew Pattison put on a gorilla mask up on the school roof. School officials called in dozens of police officers, three police helicopters, bomb-sniffing dogs and the FBI. Authorities had to keep pretending it was a valid threat, so once he was captured and unmasked, Pattison was jailed on charges carrying a year in prison.
When the case finally got to the sane members of a jury, of course, Pattison was acquitted, but not before his life was significantly affected. Not a single public official was ever held accountable for that ridiculous abuse of power.
Whoever pulled off the Bethlehem hoax got just what he (news reports said it was a guy) wanted — panic and disruptions. Think about the real assaults at schools in recent years. Did any of the homicidal maniacs call 911 to let authorities know in advance that mayhem was in the works?
In Bethlehem, what prevented police from simply calling the school to ask if there was a problem? Or perhaps sending somebody to check the situation in person before doing a Tiananmen Square number?
In all the real school assaults I can think of, the nuts just showed up and opened fire, or went in swinging knives. The common denominator was that they were sane enough to carefully select places they knew were full of defenseless people. When schools advertise that nobody, including staff, is allowed to be armed, it is an open invitation to the nuts.
As crime statistics across America clearly show, the best deterrent is when law-abiding individuals are allowed the means of self-defense. (Check the crime statistics in Switzerland, where every law-abiding adult is expected to be armed, and compare them with those in Mexico, where only the police and military can legally be armed.)
If authorities constantly react with noisy paranoia, it benefits only those who seek to create disruptions with hoax 911 calls. Someday, real harm may result from a lack of reaction, but I doubt it will be as bad as the harm now being caused by hysteria.
As I said above, I once worked on nuclear weapons, and I'd like to retell an anecdote I discussed in a column eight years ago.
One of our weapons was the Mark 28 thermonuclear bomb and it contained tritium. If the tritium leaked out, the bomb would still work, but not with as big a bang, so we had tritium detectors in our work bay. Somebody (I swear it was not I) somehow figured out that if one chewed Juicy Fruit gum and blew at a detector, it would set it off. No other gum would work.
Several times, we got the whole day off because of that, as other specialists were called in to frantically and fruitlessly look for a leaking Mark 28.
I'd be willing to bet that the creep who called 911 in Bethlehem this week had a somewhat similar motive. How long are we going to let him and his ilk keep getting their jollies this way?
Paul Carpenter's commentary appears Sundays, Wednesdays and FridaysCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun