During training sessions at Evergreen Public Schools in Vancouver, Wash., possible scenarios involving weapons are reviewed and the bus drivers are given tips on how to respond.2. Partner with community agencies for training
Offering training for drivers that addresses the possibility of students bringing weapons on school buses will strengthen their ability to deescalate incidents.
Thomsen recruits commissioned police officers who work at Evergreen Public Schools; the officers speak to the drivers about emergency scenarios that could occur on a bus, what they should and should not do, etc.
"We work very closely with our SWAT team as well. They work with our mechanics on how to put our buses out of commission if necessary so that they can't operate," Thomsen says. "The drivers also know how to shut the battery off in the event of an emergency."
Beyond working with police and SWAT officers, drivers are given tips on what to do in a variety of emergency situations. "If it's a case where someone is forcing a driver to do something against their will, we provide tips for them, such as acting like the bus is malfunctioning, so they need to call for help," Thomsen explains.
Moravia Central School District's transportation staff has also partnered with local law enforcement agencies and state troopers for training sessions, but seeing an incident occur, followed by the driver's response, has also proved effective. "We show a tape of a driver who had a student fire a gun on his bus — he handled it marvelously," Ellis says.
Central Bucks School District in Doylestown, Pa., has developed a comprehensive three and a half-hour training program for its school bus drivers on weapons incidents and other emergency situations, and how to respond to each.
As part of the program, SWAT team officers review with the drivers in a 30-minute presentation how they would respond to a hostage incident where weapons are involved.
"We gave all drivers a one-page laminated paper with all of the basic actions they should take under certain emergency situations and a small manual that they keep in their buses with information covered in the program," says James Czyz, transportation manager. "We also created another booklet for our office staff that describes the procedures they should follow if drivers call in and need assistance during an emergency."
There are numerous other training resources on weapons awareness and emergency prevention that can provide pupil transportation officials and their bus drivers with valuable information.
Brooks says that Gray Ram Tactical offers a program that can be applied to the pupil transportation industry. The instructors have had many years of experience, and they can personalize training for the audience they will be speaking with.
Safe Havens International, a nonprofit organization in Macon, Ga., also offers instruction on these topics.
"One of the things that we emphasize in our training is stress reactions," says Executive Director Mike Dorn. "When your heart rate skyrockets, you can make bad decisions. You should keep the heart rate down to help you think clearly, and you'll have better fine motor skills to help operate the bus."
One way to slow a rapid heart beat is through what Dorn calls "combat breathing." This entails taking deep breaths, holding them and then slowly exhaling.
Dorn also recommends free online training courses offered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, specifically National Incident Management System (NIMS) courses.
"NIMS is an information resource management system that helps people make decisions quickly and under pressure," he explains. "It also teaches them how to work with multiple organizations — school officials, police and fire department staff, etc. — when an incident occurs."
For more information on NIMS courses, visit http://www.fema.gov/emergency/nims/NIMSTrainingCourses.shtm.
The following are additional resources that pupil transportation officials have found helpful:
- Grace Under Fire: Establishing a Culture of Safety and Learning the Skills for Calming and De-escalating Aggressive Individuals, by Ellis Amdur. (Visit http://www.edgework.info/ and click on the "Verbal De-escalation of Aggression" link, then "Social Service Professionals," for more information about the book.)
- School Transportation Security Awareness (a DVD that depicts a hostage situation on a bus).