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February 01, 1999  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

How to Survive a Hostage Situation on Your School Bus

Sure, chances are slim that you'll be held hostage, but you should be prepared for a worst-case scenario.

by Tim Parker

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The threat of terrorism is never far from home. The bombing in Oklahoma City has become a symbol of the senseless taking of life that can erupt in any city, town or backwater in America. Federal buildings are not the only likely targets. The school bus could also find itself in the crosshairs. It is more visible and accessible than airliners, trains or government buildings. And it remains a symbol of this country's future. Who are the aggressors that we may face? While terrorists could plot to hijack a school bus, more likely it will be a troubled student, a disgruntled employee or former employee or an estranged spouse of an employee. The Fairfax County (Va.) Office of Transportation Services and the Fairfax County Police Department have been planning, training and practicing for hostage situations - just in case - for several years. Chances are slim that this will ever happen, but there are some basic survival tips that may help school bus drivers and attendants in the event of such an emergency. The following advice is offered to help school bus drivers survive a hostage situation and is intended to inform - not to cause unnecessary alarm or concern.

First, do no harm
Your main objective is to prevent anyone from getting hurt. Consider the consequences of your action or inaction before you cause additional risk for you or your passengers. In this case, patience is a virtue. This is easier to say than do, but remember that your passengers are looking to you for guidance. If you show patience, your passengers will be more prone to follow your lead. If you become hysterical, panic will spread. Know that 99 percent of hostage situations are resolved through negotiation. This process may take time, but time is on your side.

Maintain a calm exterior
Although you may be quaking inside, try not to show fear. Again, children are looking to your example. Know that police are very concerned for you and your passengers' safety, but they may purposely not ask how you are doing as this may serve to reinforce the hostage-taker's actions. Do not put yourself or passengers at additional risk by initiating aggressive actions. This is not the time to be a "hero," except in preventing harm to yourself and your passengers. This is not TV or the movies. The dangers are too real for you to take an unnecessary risk.

Stay in contact
Try to advise police and/or supervisors on your location and situation as soon as possible if the hostage-taker has not made contact. If the hostage-taker has already made contact, try to use special emergency radio codes. Also, try to keep the microphone "keyed open." This might allow a dispatcher to piece together what is happening. Be aware that many radios have what is called a "time-out timer." This feature will cause the radio to stop transmitting if the microphone button is depressed for long periods. This prevents a malfunctioning radio or a talkative driver from dominating a radio channel. Most radios with this feature are set to stop transmitting after about three minutes of continuous transmission. If your radio has this feature, you'll have to release and rekey the microphone every few minutes. This will help ensure that your transmission gets through.

How to help police
Try to help police see what is going on inside the bus or building where you are detained. Turning on interior lights, opening windows or opening a door can aid police in seeing what is happening inside. The pretense could be to let more air into the bus. The advantage is the police have a much better view and possible access to you. Also, unlatch or open the service door if possible. An unlatched door is easier for police to force open if necessary. Make a mental picture of the hostage-taker(s) and any weapons or other information that might help police. It is possible that some hostages may be released earlier than others as part of the negotiation process. Take note of any information that you can share with police if you are released before others. You may prefer to remain with your passengers, but you may not have the choice.

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