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April 01, 2005  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

How to Survive a Violent Encounter

The March shooting of school bus driver Joyce Gregory reminds us that the threat of violence should not be ignored. Techniques for prevention and de-escalation can save the lives of passengers and drivers.

by Michael P. Dallessandro


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Take all threats seriously
Before we discuss tips and techniques for surviving a violent incident on your bus or in a school environment, we should review steps to take to avoid getting into that type of situation. Although many violent situations develop unexpectedly or are simply “wrong place at the wrong time” scenarios, others are the outgrowth of escalating situations.

That’s why it’s important to investigate all threats. Whether the threat is student to student or student to employee, you need to take it seriously and work it through to the source. Gone are the days when we could simply say that the person making the threat was just blowing off steam.

This doesn’t mean you should sound the alarm over every little argument, but you need to be alert for escalating conflicts. Stay aware of your surroundings at all times. Most transportation employees travel the same routes every day, so it should not be difficult to spot things that are out of order or not “normal.” Pay attention to strange people or cars at bus stops that could be a problem. If a driver is uncomfortable, advise him or her to drive by and only return when it is safe to do so.

Pay attention to items students bring on the bus. Large items that you have never seen before can contain a weapon. Be alert to the popular “baggy” fashions. This style of dress makes it easy to conceal dangerous items. Also, watch for students who are suddenly very protective of a book bag, duffle or backpack that they normally do not care much about. Report any out-of-character behaviors to the proper school officials.

If in doubt and if your local policies and procedures permit, don’t transport until your concerns are addressed.

Cool heads may prevail
Even if you have done everything possible to protect yourself and the students you transport from ending up in the wrong place at the wrong time, you can still find yourself involved in a potentially violent or life-threatening situation. Remaining calm is the single most important step you can take. In a violent situation, you may only have a few seconds to make potentially life-changing decisions, so you will need to keep a cool head.

When confronted with the potential for violence, always speak in calm, soft tones. Do not be confrontational. It is best to keep space between you and angry, agitated or dangerous individuals. If they feel their space is crowded or threatened, they may act out more quickly, much like an animal who is cornered.

Your listening skills will be very helpful in this situation. Try to avoid doing all of the talking. Many people who act out simply want to be heard and feel that nobody will listen to them. Don’t be another adult or an “official” who tries to stifle their speech or feelings.

In any case, avoid making sudden or unexpected moves. The individual may interpret this as an aggressive move and escalate the situation far sooner than he would have. If for some reason you have to move, tell them you are going to so they know what you are doing. Along the same line, comply with reasonable requests. Being somewhat cooperative can in many cases buy you much-needed time.

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