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

Are You Prepared for a Critical Incident?

What you need to know about preparing for an emergency involving a school bus.

by Eileen Danahy

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Crash probe basics
Investigation of a collision is an extremely technical process. A working partnership with public safety personnel is invaluable. Establishing a mutual protocol with emergency services at the incident scene is essential and can be done properly only through planning. Also, remember that school personnel should never hinder the critical work being done by police and fire departments. A trained collision investigator is an asset to any transportation system. There are generally three levels of collision investigation:

  • At scene
  • Advanced
  • Reconstruction Although there may be different titles for these levels of instruction, you could check with your state’s highway administration, state police or even your local jurisdiction to see what courses are offered through its police department. Inquire if they would make seats available for someone on your staff to attend their classes. Perhaps they would work with you to develop a course specifically tailored to school bus transportation. You may want to have an informational packet developed for each driver, so data can be collected immediately by the driver or attendant, before supervisory staff arrives. For example, a checklist with drivers’ responsibilities, the passenger position chart, cards with other driver information and insurance information. An investigator’s accident kit for team members should be readily available and include the following:
  • 35mm camera with flash (and extra film)
  • 100-foot measuring tape
  • Flashlights
  • Extra reflectors or fuses
  • Note pads, pens, pencils
  • Collision scene checklist
  • Passenger injury list
  • Grease pencils to mark final rest of vehicles and skid marks Scene photographs are critical to document a collision. Investigators should take lots of pictures. Remember, film is cheap compared to what you may face in settling civil litigation. From the photos, a collision reconstructionist can determine what actually occurred. Measuring of skidmarks is also extremely important. Learn how to read and measure them. If your state law has degrees of liability, this may become an important factor. Vehicle inspection and notation of any damage may be helpful later. Photos, though important, are not the only recording method. A video camera is also an option. Record the dates and times of day you have taken notes or filmed the video. Keep all evidence secured to maintain chain of custody. In the event that you testify in court, questions relating to the scene, time of day, weather conditions, road conditions, etc., will be asked. Photography will help to refresh your memory, particularly because civil or criminal cases may not be presented in court for two or three years after the incident. Attorneys may take advantage of the extended time to confuse your recollection. A standard operating procedure should be developed and maintained so there is no question of on-scene responsibilities.

    A quick summary
    If you are interested in forming a critical incident team, here is what you need to do:

  • Recognize the need for partnerships with school administrators, public safety personnel, school insurance carriers and legal counsel.
  • Prepare written policies and procedures and review them periodically.
  • Practice by conducting mock drills.
  • Run through a debriefing to see if the developments are useful and initiate corrections if appropriate.
  • Make a dedicated effort to train staff in collision investigation. A critical incident team with assigned responsibilities is essential in order to diminish confusion the day of the event as well as years later.

    Author Eileen Danahy is a transportation specialist for Montgomery County Public Schools in Rockville, Md.

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