Plan and practice
Every school bus driver should have an emergency plan of what to do if they are hijacked. These emergency plans must be practiced just like evacuation drills.
Understandable codes should be used by drivers to inform other drivers, dispatch or supervisors of situations. Instead of calling over the radio that they “have been hijacked” or that they “think a student has a gun,” drivers should use codes, like “Code Blue” or “Code Five.”
Additionally, drivers should have periodic check-ins with dispatch or a supervisor. If one of the check-ins is missed, that can alert others of a potential problem.
School districts should also work closely with law enforcement. Local police should have an understanding of bus routes and attempt to patrol those routes. This can deter hijackers, and it is effective at reducing stop-arm violations.
Creating and maintaining a “Bus Patrol” of students can also be effective for emergencies. In programs like these, older students are taught what to do in case of various circumstances. One possible situation might be that the Bus Patrol officer will call 911 if someone attempts to hijack the school bus.
In today’s world, most kids have cell phones. While the student is calling the police, the driver can focus on the hijacker, knowing that someone else is calling for help. Again, these scenarios should be practiced in drills.
Assess the situation
If a school bus is hijacked, the driver must make some very important decisions in a very short amount of time. There are two schools of thought: The first is for the driver to obey the hijacker’s commands and wait for assistance. The second is for the driver to resist. There are many factors that must go into the decision on which approach to take. It is the totality of the circumstances that should lead the driver to the correct decision.
Regardless of whether the driver obeys the commands or resists a hijacker, every single school bus driver must understand that their No. 1 priority is the protection of the children on board. Drivers must be prepared mentally for these situations and conduct drills to reinforce proper procedures.
I encourage every driver to seek out training and learn what they can do to protect themselves and the children on their bus. I also implore school districts to provide quality training to every member of their staff.
Bret E. Brooks is a senior instructor and consultant with the private firm Gray Ram Tactical LLC, where he teaches school bus drivers, teachers and administrators. He has written numerous articles for SBF and other publications. Brooks was also a panel participant at the 2012 NAPT Annual Summit. He can be reached at email@example.com.