The five-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks was observed last September. Anyone who’s had to fly recently knows how much tighter airport security has become. The changes have made it more time-consuming and frustrating to move through an airport, but, more importantly, tougher for terrorists to mount an attack.
Over the past five years, how far has the K-12 educational community come in preparing its school transportation systems to thwart or respond to terrorist attacks on school buses? And how much further does it need to go?
Most industry watchers would probably agree that much has been done to address the security of school buses. The bombings of transit systems in London and Madrid have heightened the awareness of possible attacks on transportation systems in North America. Although it seems more likely that transit buses and passenger trains, rather than school buses, would be targeted, that’s a dangerous assumption.
Let’s take a look at how the school bus community has responded to the threat of terrorism and what steps it has taken to harden itself as a target.
The need to train bus drivers to recognize possible terrorist activity was an obvious consequence to the attacks of 9/11. To that end, the School Bus Watch program was created. This training is modeled after the Highway Watch program for truck drivers.
More than three-quarters of respondents to a recent SCHOOL BUS FLEET survey said they have implemented School Bus Watch training, which is designed for all transportation staff, not just drivers.
“All of our drivers are required to complete the School Bus Watch training,” says Mark Lindstrom, transportation director at Troup County (Ga.) Schools. “Many of them have had it twice.”
For those not familiar with School Bus Watch (and some respondents said they had not heard of it), the program teaches staff how to observe, assess and report safety or security-related activities. The program was developed for pupil transportation by the three national industry associations — National Association for Pupil Transportation, National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services and National School Transportation Association — in cooperation with the Highway Watch program.
The program offers train-the-trainer instruction, as well as end-user training that can be taught by an instructor or through a DVD or videocassette. In a nutshell, the training emphasizes the need for transportation professionals to be aware of suspicious people, packages or activities and to report any concerns to the proper authorities. The focus of the training is on activity occurring on the highway rather than at the bus yard.
Those who’ve undergone the training are given a 24-hour toll-free Highway Watch call center number to report their observations. The information gathered from School Bus Watch participants is analyzed by the Highway Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC), which in turn shares the information with law enforcement and national security agencies.
For more information about School Bus Watch, visit www.highwaywatch.com. Or you can call Danielle Abe at the National School Transportation Association at (703) 684-3200.
‘24’ on a school bus
Meanwhile, about two in five respondents to the survey have provided their drivers with the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) training called “School Transportation Security Awareness” (STSA).
This DVD-based training program, unlike School Bus Watch, focuses on security concerns within the transportation system rather than the outside community.
According to TSA officials, more than 400 organizations in 42 states have registered for the full STSA training package. The training program has been embraced by law enforcement officials as well as school bus operators. The New York State Police has ordered DVDs for distribution to all school districts in its jurisdiction.