As you may have noticed, the theme of this issue of SCHOOL BUS FLEET is security, which continues to be a timely topic.
We were reminded of that a few months ago, on Christmas Day, when a Nigerian man allegedly tried to blow up an airliner descending into Detroit from Amsterdam.
Authorities said the man had an explosive device in his underwear. The device apparently didn't explode as intended, but it set the man on fire, and passengers and crew rushed to extinguish and subdue him.
Although the bombing failed, it brings back to the spotlight the fact that terrorists are seeking to carry out attacks on U.S. soil. It's uncomfortable to think about, but a school bus packed with children could be an enticing target. Training, vigilance and assessment are as essential as ever.
In addition to our features in this issue on school bus yard security, weapon incidents on the bus and onboard video surveillance systems, here are some recent security-related developments.
New head of TSA
In March, President Obama nominated Robert A. Harding, a retired Army major general and intelligence expert, as head of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
Some background on Harding: He has spent more than 35 years working in the intelligence community, in both the military and the private sectors. He served as CEO of Harding Security Associates, a consulting company he founded in 2003 and sold last summer.
Before entering the private sector, Harding completed 33 years in the Army, where he served in various command and staff assignments. From 1996 to 2000, he was the director for operations at the Defense Intelligence Agency. He retired as the Army's No. 2 intelligence official in 2001.
At press time, the nomination was awaiting confirmation by the Senate.
Assessing bus security
TSA has been working on a highly anticipated pupil transportation security assessment. H.R. 1, signed by President Bush in August 2007, required the agency to submit a report on that subject to Congress within a year, but its progress has been delayed.
In late February, the National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) reported that TSA had apparently sent the assessment to Congress, where it is to be reviewed before being released to the public.
NASDPTS noted that the assessment will inform Congress of any vulnerabilities that TSA found and could lead to security assistance for the pupil transportation industry.
TSA's School Bus First Observer program, which trains drivers and other employees in identifying and reporting suspicious activities, is a good start. TSA also still offers its School Transportation Security Awareness video.
Depending on what the agency found in its pupil transportation security assessment, the industry may have more work to do.
At a time of widespread budget shortfalls in education, federal support would be vital in ensuring that we can address any vulnerabilities and keep school bus passengers as secure as possible.