At Buffalo Public Schools, we recognized the stress and confusion that often surrounded a bus accident, and we boiled down the start of our response to two simple questions that the dispatcher was required to ask every time: "Was it a big bump or a little bump?" and "Did anyone bump anything?"
By requiring the answers to these two questions, we immediately had critical information that helped us to start to shape an appropriate response. If it was a "big bump," or if anyone bumped anything, it was an automatic trigger to call 911 for emergency medical assistance. Critical moments in the response clock were conserved by using this simple but effective strategy.
Phase 4: Recovery
The goal of the recovery phase is to return to normal as quickly as possible. Typical activities might include assessing students for the emotional impact of the accident, identifying what follow-up interventions are available or necessary for students and staff, conducting debriefings, and incorporating the lessons learned into plan revisions and training. The recovery phase starts the cycle over.
At Buffalo Public Schools, we knew who would notify parents after a bus accident, and how and when the notification would occur using a combination of phone calls and mailings for these notices.
When responding to an accident, communication among all parties involved should be maintained.
We collected documentation on the accident and included it in our central records and in the individual student records of those involved. That way, if in the future we talked to a parent about a service issue, we would have the information at hand and know that the parent's child was involved in a school bus accident earlier in his or her bus riding career. This level of detail increased parents' trust in us, as they saw that we took their children's safety as seriously as they did.
The U.S. Department of Education published a recovery synopsis on the tragic Cottonwood, Minn., bus accident of 2008 (go to http://rems.ed.gov and search for "Bus Crash at Lakeview Public Schools"). This is a tremendous resource for recovery planning efforts.
There is an old saying in the education business: "It's not the test scores that gets the superintendents fired."
School bus accident response might not seem like one of the most critical functions of your job until you don't do it right, and then you might find out too late that it is the most important expectation that your community has of you. Parents trust us with the lives of their children. Don't wait until you have a bus emergency to realize what is expected and required of you.
By putting our bus accident responsibilities into the format of the emergency response cycle, we can handle this difficult event in a way that keeps our kids as safe as possible, which is our goal every moment of our working lives.
John P. Fahey was in charge of the Buffalo (N.Y.) Public Schools transportation program for 18 years. He joined the Tyler Technologies Versatrans Solution team as a consultant at the beginning of 2010. Fahey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.