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National School Safety and Security Services has over 20 years of experience in supporting school transportation officials in increasing staff awareness on school bus safety, security and emergency planning, while maintaining balance and common sense. Our trainers have firsthand experience in working with school bus drivers and school transportation administrators in K-12 school districts on school bus safety, security, and emergency situations from a professional school security perspective.
On a day-to-day basis, the most pressing concern about safety on school buses typically involves student behavior concerns and associated school bus discipline. But unfortunately, just as officials inside school buildings have learned, school transportation officials are increasingly learning that school bus security and emergency planning is as an important as school security and crisis planning in the actual school buildings. School bus drivers are the first and last school employees to see school children on a daily basis, and our buses are simply extensions of our schools.
Many school bus drivers have not received adequate training, and in some cases any training at all, on dealing with school safety threats. In addition to student misconduct, irate parents also pose a concern to school bus drivers.
Heightened awareness about terrorism also should include recognition that buses have been terror targets for many years in the Middle East, and that school buses in the United States are not immune from potential terrorist attacks. While such an attack may not be probable, we have to acknowledge that it is possible. As is the case in our schools, our school bus drivers must be aware and prepared, but not scared!
School Transportation News, in its November 30, 2006, issue, reported that the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) called for renewed security training for school bus drivers. In a resolution passed by its members, NASDPTS was reported to call for all school bus driver training to include, but not be limited to, training on personal safety, parental custody issues, crimes (vandalism, theft, assault), hijackings, and possession of dangerous materials or weapons. The organization also reportedly encouraged all school districts to ensure that all drivers complete a security training program. (See our school bus transportation security training web page for information such training.)
Issues of security and emergency planning for school transportation officials include, but are not limited to:
- Establish pre-employment screening and interviewing protocols for new bus drivers.
- Provide comprehensive training on student behavior management, discipline procedures, working with special education and special needs students, dealing with irate parents, security and emergency preparedness, applicable state and local laws, and associated issues for all transportation staff, including newly hired drivers.
- Conduct school security assessments, including physical security assessments, of school bus depots and associated school transportation facilities. Also train drivers on physical security issues related to bus units.
- Employ the effective use of technology, such as two-way communications capabilities and surveillance cameras, on school buses.
- Establish guidelines related to safety and emergency planning, including emergency communications procedures, for all field trips.
- Establish emergency preparedness guidelines from an "all hazards" approach, covering both natural disasters (weather related, for example) and manmade acts of crime and violence.
- Develop emergency plans with both your school district, neighboring districts, and the broader community in mind. How would you mobilize buses in a major community emergency? What role do buses have in emergency management for cities and counties? What happens if public safety and emergency management officials commandeer your buses? How would an emergency impact gas supplies? Who could and would be able to drive school buses if regular drivers were not available?
- Create guidelines and train school bus drivers on dealing with intervening in student fights and conflicts on buses, irate parents, potential trespassers aboard buses, student threat assessment, early warning signs of potential violence, and related threats.
- Train school bus drivers and transportation supervisors on terrorism-related issues, bomb threat and suspicious devices, inspecting buses, heightened awareness at bus stops and while driving, increased observations skills while coming and going at schools, sharpening skills in reporting incidents, etc.
- Include school transportation supervisors and school bus drivers in district and building emergency planning processes and meetings.
- Establish mechanisms for mobilizing transportation services during irregular transportation department operations times, such as mid-day when drivers are not normally scheduled to work. Consider establishing mutual aid agreements with neighboring school districts for mass, rapid mobilization in an emergency.
- Train school bus drivers on interacting with public safety officials aboard buses, at accident scenes, in on-road emergencies, and when emergency situations exist at schools. Include protocols for dealing with school evacuations, student release procedures, family reunification issues, and associated matters.
- Have student rosters, emergency contact numbers, first aid kits, and other necessary emergency information and equipment aboard all buses.
- Make school buses available to local law enforcement, SWAT teams, and other public safety officials for their training exercises.
- Put identifiers (numbers, district initials, etc.) on top of all school buses that could be used to identify specific buses from police helicopters overhead in an emergency.
- Hold periodic meetings during the school year between bus drivers and school administrators to discuss discipline procedures, safety practices, and associated issues.
- Provide a method for parents to identify substitute bus drivers as district employees prior to putting children on a school bus with an unfamiliar driver.
- Practice emergency exercises to evaluate and refine written emergency plans to make sure that what is in writing could actually work in a real emergency. Drivers, like personnel working in a school, need to be prepared for quick thinking on their feet in an emergency, such as having to re-route due to adverse weather or due to an emerging emergency situation at a school or bus stop.
These and other practices can help school bus drivers and school transportation staff become better prepared for safer travel with our students.
Also see our school bus transportation security training web page.
For additional information, contact Ken Trump.