New school bus security program launches

Posted on July 1, 2009

A new program has been developed to train school bus personnel on identifying and reporting potentially criminal or terrorist activities.

The move comes “in response to worldwide acts of violence involving schoolchildren,” officials involved in the program said in a statement.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) program, dubbed School Bus First Observer, became available in June. The three national industry associations — National Association for Pupil Transportation, National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) and National School Transportation Association (NSTA) — worked on building the training.

School Bus First Observer replaces School Bus Watch, which school bus drivers across the nation participated in a few years ago. The program emphasized the need for transportation professionals to be aware of suspicious people, packages or activities and to report any concerns to the proper authorities. It focused on activity occurring on the highway rather than at the bus yard.

But School Bus Watch and its trucking counterpart, Highway Watch, were eventually suspended, and the telephone number for reporting suspicious activities was disconnected. TSA, which had contracted with the American Trucking Associations for the programs, handed the job over to HMS Co.

NASDPTS President Charlie Hood said in an announcement to members that School Bus First Observer “does not negate the value of the School Bus Watch training that many of you have conducted for your school bus drivers, technicians and others.” The new program will include an optional update module for those already trained in School Bus Watch.

Hood said that further details were forthcoming about how School Bus First Observer training will be delivered, how participants will register and other aspects of the program.

HMS Co. partner Total Security Services International (TSSI) is leading the development and implementation of School Bus First Observer. It will arrange for a master trainer to provide, at no cost, “Train-the-Trainer Training” for states, associations and other groups with a minimum of 12 trainers to be certified.

During the initial phase, TSSI will also provide, at no cost, a master trainer for end user training — drivers, monitors, technicians, office staff, etc. — for groups of 250 or more on a first-come, first-served basis.

Later in the year, an online module will become available.

Train-the-Trainer Training sessions have been scheduled for three industry events in July:

  • the Southeastern States Pupil Transportation Conference in Shreveport, La., July 14-15,
  • the NSTA conference and International School Bus Safety Competition in Greensboro, N.C., July 18,
  • and the STN Expo in Reno, Nev., July 29.

    To arrange other training sessions, contact TSSI’s Sam Beatty at (240) 450-1675 or [email protected].

    Potential security threats can be reported to the First Observer Call Center at (888) 217-5902. Additional information is available at



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