NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Security training for school bus drivers, especially training that focuses on age-appropriate communication with young students, is “sorely lacking,” according to researchers at Rutgers University’s Center for Transportation Safety, Security and Risk (CTSSR).
Last year, the CTSSR began conducting nationwide research on the need for and availability of all-hazards-related training for the surface transportation sector. The research revealed that school facility-focused safety and emergency programs typically overlook the role of pupil transporters in the management of security-related incidents that can occur while students are traveling to and from school.
As a result, the CTSSR developed the “All Hazards Crisis Communication Training for School Bus Drivers” project with grant money from the Department of Homeland Security National Transportation Security Center of Excellence. The CTSSR's ultimate goal is to create a training course for bus drivers that will teach them how to effectively communicate with schoolchildren while a crisis is occurring.
“We are poised to develop the course, and for now, we have the results of our year of research, the demonstrated need for the course, and what we'd like to do with it in terms of content and delivery,” Karen Lowrie, Ph.D., associate director of Rutgers University’s CTSSR, told SBF in an interview, adding that the center hopes to develop the course within the next year.
Since the project began in summer 2010, the staff conducted a thorough literature review, and also interviewed and held focus groups with leaders in the pupil transportation community.
Researchers went to the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) Summit in Portland, Ore., last fall to obtain feedback on the proposed program. Lowrie said that NAPT and other industry groups "have expressed a great deal of support for a course on this important topic."
The CTSSR also plans to conduct four focus groups this spring — two with school bus drivers and two with school bus driver trainers to elicit feedback on the format and content of the training. The Trans Group LLC in Spring Valley, N.Y., hosted one of the focus groups.
Lowrie added that officials at the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools are interested in the program, as are members of the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Commission on Children and Disasters.
In terms of the need for the training, the CTSSR reports that children exposed to trauma are known to exhibit a variety of negative effects, such as generalized fear and social withdrawal to anxiety and mood disorders. The CTSSR believes that raising bus drivers’ awareness of post-trauma effects may help them to better relate to students who exhibit fear, social withdrawal, anxiety, etc., after a crisis.
(A report of the CTSSR’s first phase of research can be found here.)
The content of the CTSSR’s proposed training course will include:
• Best practices in age‐appropriate crisis communication based on principles from child psychology.
• Assessment and response skills related to children’s reaction to incidents.
• Practices to minimize children’s exposure to and impacts from trauma.
• Scenario‐based exercises to practice skills. Lowrie said this could include, for example, how to read students’ behavior.
Moreover, the content will likely include a short video with interactive scenarios, and it will be adaptable to online or web‐based formats.
“The program will be flexible. There will be traditional classroom modules and a video component so that districts and bus companies can adjust the length and type of training to their needs,” Lowrie said.
The All Hazards Crisis Communication Training for School Bus Drivers project is funded through next month. Lowrie said she and other CTSSR employees are planning to work closely with the Transportation Security Administration’s Highway and Motor Carrier Division, which may integrate the training into its First Observer program and help to sponsor the course development.
She added that the CTSSR is open to additional suggestions for content, sources of support and resources for development and delivery of the course. Lowrie can be reached at (717) 471-0160 or [email protected].