Spotlight on security

Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher
Posted on July 1, 2009
As of this writing, the Homeland Security Advisory System’s national threat level is yellow, which is considered “elevated,” but it’s still below the orange and red levels.

Still, security is a constant concern for the pupil transportation industry, whose precious cargo could be an alluring target for terrorists or others with evil intentions.

That point was illustrated perhaps most notoriously by the Chowchilla, Calif., incident of 1976, in which three armed men hijacked a school bus carrying 26 students and imprisoned them in a moving van they had buried in a quarry.

As the captors were trying to arrange for a $5 million ransom, the school bus driver and some of the older boys managed to dig their way to freedom and summon help after 16 hours underground.

On the lookout
That’s an extremely rare type of occurrence, of course, but it shows the need for vigilance and preparedness.

Accordingly, security will be in the spotlight at the National School Transportation Association’s (NSTA) annual gathering later this month in Greensboro, N.C. The event will host one of the first sessions of School Bus First Observer, the successor to the School Bus Watch program.

The NSTA meeting will offer “Train-the- Trainer Training,” which would allow an instructor from your operation to be certified to teach the First Observer program to your drivers and other employees. The goal is to be able to effectively identify and report suspicious activities of a potentially criminal or terrorist nature to the proper authorities.

The three national associations — NSTA, the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) and the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services — have been working on this new First Observer program with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and its partners, so you can be assured that the training will be tailored to the needs of pupil transporters.

More details on School Bus First Observer are on pg. 8 in this issue.

Staying sharp
In conjunction with the NSTA gathering in Greensboro, TSA will hold what promises to be an interesting and interactive school bus security exercise.

The free session will be a scenario-based “tabletop” exercise that will focus on assessing security threats, establishing communications, securing critical infrastructure and assets, and public evacuation.

To register for the security exercise, go to

In addition to Greensboro, there will be further opportunities for training in the First Observer program. And later in the year, an online module will become available for it. Also, TSA still offers its School Transportation Security Awareness DVD.

As of this writing, the program for the NAPT Summit this fall hadn’t been finalized, but discussion of TSA’s long-awaited report to Congress on school transportation security is likely to be on the agenda.

For our industry, security will always be in the spotlight — no matter what color the national threat level is at the moment.

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