Preparing for incidents that could put students' and employees' safety and security in jeopardy is something that everyone at a school bus operation should participate in so that they can effectively respond. Establishing an emergency plan and bus inspection procedures and covering security issues during training sessions are equally important components of the preparation process.
Lionel Pinn, director of transportation for Centralia/Chehalis Pupil Transportation Cooperative in Centralia, Wash., says he has implemented the "code nine system," which he reviews with his staff during the operation's summer training session. He also has monthly meetings for the bus drivers, during which he leaves time for discussions about security.
Drivers use the code nine system to notify the dispatcher if there is a serious situation involving a student or parent. The driver adds No. 9 to the route (i.e., route No. 5 would become route No. 59 or 95), and the office staff then calls 911.
Moreover, Pinn feels that the industry should put more focus on security training.
"I'd like to see some collaboration with local law enforcement — police and SWAT teams — and have them teach in the classroom or do a live demonstration out on the bus," he says.
Comprehensive efforts to bolster facility, bus and student security
While the transportation staff at Reynolds School District, Fairview, Ore., has not participated in security training sessions with local police or SWAT teams, Transportation Supervisor Kathy Houck has organized an agreement with the five cities within the district's boundaries to increase security at her operation's facility.
She says officials from the cities' police departments come to the lot throughout the day and night to fuel their vehicles. Their presence is designed to dissuade people from breaking into the facility.
When the district's buses are parked at the department's fenced facility, the under-storage areas are locked to make tampering more difficult.
"The drivers check them during their pre-trip inspections to make sure they don't see anything suspicious. If they see suspicious devices, they notify us immediately so that we can contact 911," Houck says.
Reynolds School District's transportation department also has an emergency plan that it shares with all of the district's schools. The plan addresses such issues as where students will be taken and where buses will be parked. The drivers receive an annual review of this information.
Bus drivers at Hanover County Public Schools in Ashland, Va., have been instructed to check under the hood of their bus and under the vehicle itself during their morning pre-trip inspections. If they notice something suspicious, they are required to tell the facility's communications staff, who will then contact fire, EMS and the sheriff's office as necessary.
Transportation Director Michael Ashby adds that all of the districts schools, as well as all of the county's EMS facilities, fire departments and some churches are safe houses.
"If there was a situation — say a bomb threat — the drivers have a place where they can go to park the buses and evacuate the students," he says.
New Mexico operations communicate with first responders
In 2004, the New Mexico Public Education Department's School Transportation Bureau in Santa Fe unveiled the state's School Bus Driver Security Training Program.
Carlos Santiago, New Mexico's transportation director, says that all existing school bus drivers, school bus attendants, activity vehicle drivers and transportation staff members received the training as part of their in-service instruction before the end of 2004.
"All pre-service certification classes include the training, so everyone trained since 2004 has benefitted from the program," he adds, saying that pupil transportation professionals have reported activities across the state which previously might have gone unreported.
"An additional benefit has been the opening of dialogue and communication within local communities," he says. "In many areas, transportation teams have invited first responders to participate in training activities. During one practice, SWAT team members were shocked at the challenges of taking control of a school bus during a mock situation. Everyone involved in these drills has come away with a better understanding of the other participants' responsibilities."
Santiago offers several suggestions for developing a security training program based on the approach that was used for New Mexico's program:
∙ Participants need to receive enough useful information that they will automatically buy into the program. New Mexico's training program includes 15 modules that start with a description of why the training is important, not only for the employees and the students they transport, but because of the impact a security breach will have on communities in the state.
∙ Make certain that the program will be understood by all trainees. "We wanted a program that would provide usable information for employees from all walks of life, not just individuals with some form of military or security background," Santiago says. "Not only did we want this program to train our transportation staff, we wanted to use the program as a tool to get our school districts and bus contractors communicating with the first responders in their areas."
∙ Make sure that you can adapt the training so that it will be relevant to the community or communities where it is being presented.