The likelihood of a fatal or serious injury accident involving a school bus is relatively small, but school systems need to be prepared for any eventuality. At Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, we respond to these emergencies with what we call a critical incident team. The purpose of the team is to address the needs of the students and other passengers on the bus and to ensure proper incident investigation. This team should also protect the interests of the school system and minimize civil liability. This team comprises individuals who are specially prepared to handle critical incidents likely to result in media attention, civil liability or criminal charges. A working partnership among intergovernmental agencies — such as police departments, fire departments, insurance agencies and legal offices — is essential.
Team has 2 functions
Who calls the police and ambulance service?
What are the responsibilities of the driver and attendant?
Who maintains the list of students on the bus, the transportation department or the school?
Who maintains the list of emergency phone numbers to contact parents?
Who notifies parents that their child was involved in a serious crash?
Who documents the hospital name and address where each child is transported?
What do you do when a collision occurs in the afternoon after school has dismissed and all school telephones are now on an answering machine?
Who maintains a manifest or passenger list for after-hours operations (e.g., field trips, athletic trips or activity buses)? More often than not, fire departments will be at the accident scene well before transportation personnel. Do you have a plan to work with the fire department or ambulance service in your area so you can determine the answers to these questions?
In the event of a critical incident, the team handles administrative duties as well as accident investigation. Let’s first discuss these administrative assignments. Because an accident scene can quickly become an area of hysteria and confusion, a written policy assigning basic tasks is a necessity. Here are several basic questions that need to be answered through administrative policy.
Compliance is critical
Radio dispatch responsibilities
Driver and attendant responsibilities
Release of students from the incident scene
Psychological needs for trauma for students and all staff The person taking the initial call (dispatcher or transportation supervisor) should have a checklist of all parties to be notified. All information should be collected and referred to this central point to ensure current and accurate information. This location would be the communication hub. The undocumented release of students from a serious incident scene could be a source of intense confusion. You need to determine how to address the following questions:
Will parents be allowed to take students from the scene?
Who will keep track, especially if a parent also takes a neighbor’s child?
How would the parent of a non-verbal child be positively identified?
Transporting students back to their school to be released to their parents is one option.
If students are not seriously injured, children may be delivered to their home by a relief bus. Other administrative considerations include consulting a crisis intervention group. Consisting of psychologists and/or therapists, this group should be prepared to offer counseling to all school system parties. In one case involving a fatality, this service was offered to everyone except the bus driver. This unfortunate oversight has changed standard operating procedure in one jurisdiction, and a school system psychologist may report directly to an incident scene as appropriate.
In a recent meeting concerning a special-needs student, the principal was asked if she had a list of the special-education students and their assigned buses. Her response was that she had them for all the regular-education students, but not for the special-needs students. In this case, a policy mandate was not followed. This would have compounded confusion had there been a serious incident. Written policies and procedures can and will assist you in the event of a critical incident. Administrative and school offices need to understand the importance of transportation policies and be willing to share the responsibilities. Here are some areas of planning that require mutual agreement: