3. Generate procedures for effective emergency response
Equally important to training bus drivers on weapons incidents is establishing policies and procedures for drivers to follow in the event of such an emergency.
Dorn encourages transportation officials and their bus drivers to work with law enforcement and school district administrators to generate policies and procedures for three distinct weapons incident-related possibilities:
- There is a suspicion or an indication that a student has a weapon on a bus.
- A student has used a weapon on a bus and has injured others.
- A hostage situation.
Moreover, every school bus driver should receive a written copy of their department's response procedures for these scenarios, and they should be trained on how to execute the procedures.
Dorn says the combination of establishing response procedures and training drivers on these procedures will "build confidence, which is something that will keep people from panicking."
Pupil transportation departments' procedures for resolving weapons incidents are similar, usually involving communication with the transportation office to notify the rest of the staff (if possible), followed by a call to local law enforcement.
Evergreen Public Schools drivers have been instructed to contact the dispatch office through the two-way radios on the buses, say "code red" and give their location to the dispatchers. A code red clears the radio so that other drivers cannot call in during the emergency. It also notifies the dispatchers of the seriousness of the situation and that law enforcement will need to become involved.
Thomsen says the office staff would then try to get as much information as they can from the driver about the situation.
"Anything a driver can do to keep the situation calm is key," he adds. "That usually means talking to the student. If the opportunity exists for the driver to evacuate the rest of the students to isolate the individual, that's even better."
Ellis expresses a similar sentiment. "We train drivers and attendants that their priority in a weapons incident is the welfare of the other children on board. Their first goal is convincing the student (or other party) with a weapon to let the other students off the bus," he says.
Ellis also has his drivers use a code. If a driver suspects that a student has a weapon on the bus, he or she calls base by radio and says, "I won't be able to take that trip to Pennsylvania we talked about." The office staff then contacts law enforcement, which intercepts the bus en route.
However, he notes that if a student actually displays a weapon, the driver uses plain language — not a code — over the radio to describe the situation. Law enforcement is then sent to the scene.
Central Bucks School District's transportation department has had a panic button installed on the instrument panel of its buses to assist drivers in an emergency. Czyz asks his drivers to contact the transportation office whenever possible in a dangerous situation, but he says that when the drivers press the button, it sends a signal to the dispatcher that there is a problem and then the office staff can, through its GPS, locate the bus and determine the best response based on what the driver can tell them.
To further enhance safety for their drivers and the students they transport, Madison County Schools and Moravia Central School District prohibit their drivers from searching students for weapons or trying to disarm students.
Both Brooks and Dorn agree that this is a good practice. "By trying to search a kid for a weapon, you can push that into a shooting, hostage or a stabbing situation," Dorn explains. "We normally want the search to be conducted by the police."