Cooperate, within reason
Cooperate with your captor and do as you are told. Make phone or radio calls if asked. You should comply with reasonable demands but do not offer to help. If you are told to drive your bus to a particular location, follow your captor's instructions. However, if you have the opportunity to position the bus upon your arrival, try to avoid parking in the open. Instead, park near large objects such as buildings or other vehicles that block the captor's view. Better positioning of the bus may help police get closer to you without being seen. If police try to enter the bus or building where you are being held, avoid giving away their position or actions by your reactions. Changes in your facial expression alone could cause the captor to be suspicious. Be prepared for loud noises or shouting to distract or instruct captors as the police approach. If you are in a bus with air brakes, the police may release the air from the system rapidly to prevent the bus from moving or to aid in gaining access or to create a distraction. In any case, the quick release of air is extremely loud. There could even be gunfire to distract or suppress the captor.
Avoid the situation
Report any suspicious persons immediately. Do not wait for something to happen or get out of control.
Safeguard your keys. It is harder for someone to enter or move your bus if you have the keys under your control.
Supervisors should retrieve keys from terminated employees.
If you are involved in a domestic dispute or have an order of protection against someone, be sure you take action to protect yourself while on your bus and while en route to the compound.
Alert your supervisors to the situation or dispute and provide them with a photo of the person if he or she is prone to violence.
Let neighbors, co-workers or your landlord know that you may be in danger and that they should call police if they hear or see anything suspicious.
Know what looks normal and not normal at your workplace.
If you suspect a hostage crisis is about to occur, evacuate or remove the bus and passengers from the area and call police.
It helps to know what to do if your bus is put in a hostage situation, but it's best not to allow yourself to end up in such a situation. Here are a few tips on how to avoid hostage situations:
Know your passengers
Your familiarity with your passengers and their needs can be vital in such emergencies, especially if a student has medical needs that could become acute if he or she is not delivered to school or home for treatment. This might also serve as a reason for your captor to allow communication to emergency support. If a student is the hijacker, your personal knowledge and relationship with the student could be helpful in safely resolving the situation. Better still, your knowledge or identification of a student's problem might get them assistance before the situation escalates. For more information on how to deal with hostage situations, contact your local law enforcement agency.
How to Prepare Your Drivers
Last fall, the transportation department at Fairfax County Public Schools began to present information to all school bus drivers on how to deal with hostage-taking situations. But actual drills and role-playing scenarios with the SWAT team have involved a relatively small number of staff members. It's difficult to involve 1,200-plus drivers in role-playing drills with police. At Fairfax County Public Schools, we are looking into possibly adding a role-playing activity in the classroom, but police would not be involved. We have also added a hidden air release valve on our new buses to allow police to open the air-operated entrance door with greater ease.
Tim Parker is assistant transportation director at Fairfax County (Va.) Public Schools. Information in this article was collected from the Fairfax County Police Department through interviews and handout materials.