The offense of creating a false public alarm in violation of NJSA 2C: 33-3 can lead to a conviction for a fourth, third, second degree, or first degree crime. This is an indictable offense (felony). If convicted, one could serve up to 20 years in state prison. This makes, for example, pulling a fire alarm, more than just a school yard prank. In fact, it is anything but.
The seriousness of the charge will depend on the circumstances. For example, if you cause s false public alarm, and during the course of the alarm someone is seriously injured, you will be charged with a 2nd degree crime. This applies even if the serious bodily injury was not a foreseeable consequence of the situation you created. Also serious bodily injury is a legal term of art, and for the purposes of this statute, the level of injury that is required is not all that great.
Typically speaking, calling 9-1-1 without the purpose of reporting the need for the services is a 4th degree offense punishable by up to 18 months in State prison.
Most other acts will be charged as 3rd degree crime, with the exception that making bomb threats is a 2nd degree offense. If the same happens during a time of national emergency, the charge is elevated to a first degree offense.
Under most circumstances, charges under this section are the result of pranks gone wrong. Nonetheless, the consequences are nothing to laugh at. But the statute that penalized false alarms also provides a number of fact specific defenses that an experienced lawyer will be able to apply.
The best step you can take is to speak with a NJ defense lawyer who offers free consultations. Then you can make an educated decision on how to proceed.