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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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Is there anything else you’re working on?
Yes, we’re also preparing a Web-based program on school bus security that will be geared toward specific groups of people, such as drivers or garage technicians. We’ll be attending five pupil transportation conferences this year to explain how to use the DVD and the Web-based program. There will also be a train-the-trainer program to facilitate groups watching the DVD.

Most of the TSA’s focus seems to be on airline security. Where does school transportation fit into the larger TSA security picture?
Unfortunately, this is correct — most of TSA’s focus is on airline security, even though we have pipeline, railroad, mass transit, highway and motor carrier — including school buses and motorcoaches — modes that have separate offices and are continuously working to improve security in other modes of transportation.

Unfortunately, the trucking, motorcoach and school transportation industries are very different from the aviation industry in that there are thousands more operating units than there are airlines. Additionally, government regulations vary widely with these other modes. Therefore, it is harder to know how many companies are operating, what types of operations they have and how to get in touch with the principals in case there is a threat to them.

What organizations is the TSA working with in the school bus industry?
We are working with the three main associations — NAPT [National Association for Pupil Transportation], NSTA [National School Transportation Association] and NASDPTS [National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services]. We will probably be contacting some local school districts to ask if they would like us to conduct a Corporate Security Review on their operations.

Do you need more input from the industry?
We maintain contact with the three associations and try to send someone to the major conferences. However, our staff is small, with only four of us, and we need to initiate the contacts with the industry; otherwise, we would be overwhelmed.

If the TSA uncovered a general or specific threat against a school bus, how would it relay that information to school bus operators?
If a threat were made against a school bus or school district, we would call our contact at NASDPTS and send out an alert to the entire school transportation industry and provide any intelligence information that we could. Presently, we are trying to have key personnel obtain security clearances in order to share intelligence information with them.

In your opinion, what are the key vulnerabilities of school buses?
School buses are vulnerable because they have set routes and adhere to those routes on set days at set times. There is no randomness to the operation.

Also, they are extremely vulnerable because of the children that they carry. No one (regardless of whether you are a parent or not) wants to see or hear about children being hurt or killed.

Two more vulnerabilities are that there are so many of them and that they are operating in thousands of locations. It is hard to secure thousands of vehicles in thousands of places.

Do you have any sense of how successful the roll-out of the School Bus Watch program has been?
I am aware of the School Bus Watch program, and I know that the industry is enthusiastic about it. We are also enthusiastic about this program and believe that it complements whatever else we are going to provide to the school transportation industry. Hopefully, the industry will soon be getting the attention it needs and deserves.

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