Do any of the following headlines sound familiar? They all appeared in the news on a single day this past February in cities and towns across North America.
“School Department Calls Bus Incident ‘Serious Error’”
“School Board Fires Bus Driver”
“Kids Left On School Bus — Again”
“School Bus Driver Dies On Route”
“School Bus Rear-Ended, Students Injured”
Hopefully, they didn’t involve you or your transportation department. If they did, it’s a safe bet you’re still dealing with the aftershocks created by these unwanted, and often unexpected, crisis events.
Let’s face it, student transportation operates under an enormous amount of public scrutiny, and when things go wrong, it’s a big story. During a crisis, your credibility and reputation are on the line. How you respond in the first few minutes may very well determine whether one or both will still be intact when the crisis is over.
So, just what is a crisis? Simply stated, it can be any threat or event that creates chaos and, usually, suffering. A crisis compresses a great number of events into a short period of time and simultaneously magnifies the responses of people both inside and outside your organization. With attention focused so strongly on your operations, change is inevitable.
The 7 deadly sins
Crises arise from both natural and man-made causes. Natural causes — winter storms, tornadoes, floods and hurricanes — while unexpected, are not difficult to explain and need no justification. They do, however, require thorough preparation, as we’ve learned from the mistakes rising from Hurricane Katrina.
In reality, most crises are caused by human error or intent, not by random events. And these threats are usually much harder to manage since the instigators are often victims of their actions or unwilling to help.
In the student transportation field, I believe that most crisis events come from what I call the “Seven Deadly Sins”:
Danger zone encounter — A child has been struck by the bus or a passing vehicle.
Vehicle maintenance problem — A mechanical failure has resulted in an accident.
Child dropped off at wrong stop — A child is left to wander the streets in an unfamiliar neighborhood.
Driver misconduct — Physical, verbal or sexual abuse on the bus, or inappropriate behavior brought to light off the bus.
Driver background problem — A driver with a checkered past.
Driver substance abuse — A driver caught drinking and driving or under the influence of drugs.
Child left on the bus — Failure by a driver or aide to thoroughly check the bus for remaining children.