Over the past year, Americans have developed a disconcerting familiarity with terrorism, which is no longer a strictly foreign concept. The shocking events of Sept. 11 delivered terrorism to our doorsteps and seem to have sensitized us to terrorist acts all over the globe.
The suicide bombings in Israel that have been going on for years suddenly seem more relevant, the attacks more audacious. Many of these bombings have taken place on public buses, where killing is efficient because of the high density of people in a tightly enclosed area.
Terrorists, or garden-variety lunatics, could undoubtedly perform the same bloodthirsty acts here on U.S. soil. We pray that it doesn't happen, especially not on a school bus. But there are no guarantees anymore. Although the odds are very small that terrorists will target a school bus, no one expected a killing spree of the magnitude that occurred at Columbine High School in Colorado in 1999. The unbelievable is no longer.
Vigilance is weakening
In the days following Sept. 11, school transportation experts discussed the possibility of using mirrors to check the undercarriages of school buses for bombs. A somewhat extreme reaction. Admittedly, anxiety was high and the public wanted to know that steps were being taken to safeguard their children, but those security concerns seem to have softened and fallen away in the past year.
Instead, we've relaxed and grown a bit complacent. The early post-Sept. 11 precautions, especially those at U.S. airports, that seemed so sensible in the months after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon seem like an overreaction now.
That's why it's so important to view the passing of the Sept. 11 anniversary with more than compassion for the victims and their families or outrage against the forces of Osama bin Laden. What we need to do is remind ourselves that terrorism is still alive and well.
Children as collateral damage
Some so-called terrorism experts say that children are revered in all cultures, thus it's unlikely that terrorists would ever attack a school bus. I don't feel comfortable making that assumption.
If that was true, do you think terrorists who hijack an airliner with the intent of crashing it into a national monument will void their plans if they discover that a large contingent of Cub Scouts are on the plane flying to a national jamboree? Probably not.
The war that we're fighting doesn't preclude the slaying of children. A suicide bomber in New York City could pick a transit bus filled with schoolchildren headed for a local museum. Or a subway train filled with teenagers on their way to school. Random chance could put children in harm's way. That's why it's so important that the pupil transportation community prepare for all types of disasters, including terrorist attacks, with evacuation drills and comprehensive driver training as well as coordinated plan-ning with local emergency agencies.
The school bus is an American icon with a proud heritage of unrivaled safe passage. Let's stay vigilant, not just to the possibilities of terrorist attacks but also to the day-to-day dangers on the highways and at schools. Our precious cargo is relatively safe, yes, but we should never lower our guard.