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February 01, 2006  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Q&A: TSA's Poole Says Buses Are 'Highly Vulnerable to Terrorism'

Since joining the Transportation Security Administration last April, Jeane Poole has elevated school buses to "highly vulnerable" on the agency's list of risk assessments and is preparing training programs to address terrorist threat.

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Jean Poole believes school buses are highly vulnerable to terrorist attack and need more attention from the federal government. She has been the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) point person for the school bus industry since last April, when she took the position of branch chief, Motor Carrier Passenger Security Branch. She also is responsible for the TSA’s security initiatives involving the over-the-road coach industry.

Poole has been with the TSA since 2002, after a 20-year tenure as a highway accident investigator and, later, chief of the investigative programs division for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB). Prior to joining the NTSB, Poole was a trooper with the Maryland State Police, from 1977 to 1983.

Poole hopes to increase the federal government’s involvement with school bus security by addressing training concerns at every level, from the transportation director to the shop technicians to the drivers.

SBF Editor Steve Hirano spoke with Poole about the TSA’s commitment to school transportation and about training initiatives in the pipeline.

SBF: Can you summarize your activities since being named the TSA's school transportation liaison?
JEAN POOLE: Within a week after I was appointed to this position last April, I met with school transportation industry representatives and heard that they were not receiving any attention from the federal government regarding securing their operations.

After discussing options with several staff members, we decided that we would try to replicate Operation Secure Transport (a training module made specifically for the motorcoach industry) and gear it toward school transportation.

I began working to obtain a contract with Consolidated Safety Services (CSS) to obtain security awareness training for the school transportation industry.

During the same time period, our office was asked to provide possible scenarios depicting the vulnerabilities in highway transportation. Most top managers were thinking about hazardous materials and trucking and possible vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices (VBIEDs) used by terrorists to harm us. I elevated the school bus industry on the list of risk assessments as being highly vulnerable to terrorism.

Is the TSA currently working on any school bus-specific initiatives?
TSA has a contract with CSS to provide a curriculum for School Transportation Awareness Training (STAT) that provides a real-life terrorist situation with school bus driver reaction, children’s reactions and school officials’ reactions and handling of the situation. We wanted training that would provide a realistic situation and re-enthuse people to be security conscious. Because nothing significant has occurred in the U.S. since 9/11, many people have become complacent.

Could you explain what the STAT curriculum will consist of?
CSS is creating a DVD that will present a scenario in which terrorists board a school bus and take the children hostage. It’s being filmed in Houston and should be completed shortly.

The DVD will have interludes in which the viewers discuss how they would handle the situation. The point of the training is to confront the question: What would you do if this happened on one of your buses? We want every single level of school transportation, from district administrators to transportation directors to shop supervisors to drivers, to go through this training so they’ll be prepared in case it does happen.

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