Pin Me

How Communities Confuse Geocaching with Security Threats

written by: George Garza•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 5/23/2011

Geocaching is an outdoor hide and seek game. With GPS devices as the basis of the hunt, players look for hidden containers, called geocaches, and then share their experiences online. However, there have been geocache incidents that raise security issues.

  • slide 1 of 6

    Small Incident, Large Response - Fairview High School

    Geocaching Logo In geoacaching, someone hides a container that has a logbook or some small prize and offers the GPS coordinates on a website, which allows people to look for it. It is supposed to be fun, but even a small incident such as hiding a geocache on school property can create concern. This happened in Boulder, Colorado in May 2009.

    School officials evacuated students at Fairview high school in Boulder because of a geocache. They did not know about the geocache, even though a schoolteacher had informed them and asked for permission to place the container on school property. So when unknown individuals started to appear on the school property, school officials took notice. They evacuated the school. Why?

    Perhaps it was because there was a fear of another school shooting, since it was the tenth anniversary of the Columbine school shootings, or maybe just because of the times we live in, with homeland security and terrorism being on people's mind. In any event, who is to blame for this over reaction? Perhaps it was the schoolteacher who did not think that strangers appearing on school property would cause a problem. Maybe it was the school officials who took it on themselves to react this way instead of asking for police help. Either way, the lack of foresight and maybe the lack of some common sense helped make this "mountain out of a molehill."

  • slide 2 of 6

    The Riverside Drive Event

    In July 2008, police shut down a street and were set to disarm a suspicious looking package.

    The police closed off Riverside Drive and part of the transit way for four hours while the bomb squad was called in to destroy the package. It turned out the suspicions were heightened when the contents of the container could not be seen. It contained some trinkets.

    As part of the common sense protocol, police want geocaching containers to be transparent so that their contents can be easily identified and not misidentified as a threat.

  • slide 3 of 6

    The Colorado Springs Bomb Scare

    In November 2010, a resident noticed that a stranger was placing a box in the area. When he was approached and asked about it, instead of responding, he ran. That raised concerns immediately. The bomb squad was called in, and a robotic device went looking for the box. When it was discovered, it was determined to be nothing more than a geocache container. While it was a harmless package, the incident was costly. It could have been handled quickly and quietly if the person placing the geocache had been forthright instead of running.

  • slide 4 of 6

    The West Texas Bomb Scare

    A similar occurrence in Midland Texas took place in May 2010. A package was left in the Academy Sports & Outdoor parking lot. Initially, the police thought it was a pipe bomb. Store employees notified the police who came with their bomb squad. The parking lot was cordoned off and shoppers told to stay inside for about two hours. After the robot bomb detecting device was used, bomb squad members discovered that the bundle was a geocache package, not an explosive device. The police department decided to get together with geocaching participants in the community so the police department could better understand what geocaching was and what the participants should do when setting up their containers.

  • slide 5 of 6

    Best Approach

    These incidents, while harmless, don't appear to be so at the beginning. Therefore, some working protocols should be put in place in order to eliminate panic and costly police intervention. You are not committing a crime by placing a container in a public place, but it could look that way.

    • Clearly label the geocaching device as a "Geocaching Container" with the words clearly spelled out.
    • The contents should be visible or at least disclosed by the person placing the container on the outside of the container. So something like "There are trinkets and a log book in this geocaching container. It is harmless."
    • We are living in suspicious times. Even well-meaning strangers are not perceived that way.
    • If someone asks what you are doing, respond. Do not ignore the person or run away.

    You can learn more about Geocoaching at A Real-World “Treasure Hunt” Played with a GPS Unit.