Following the tragic school bus fire in Oakland, Iowa, on Dec. 12, 2017, it behooves the school transportation industry to consider whether we are doing enough in our required emergency evacuation training each year to ensure that every child and adult who rides a school bus knows what to do in an emergency.
Emergencies can obviously constitute many different things, from an accident to a driver’s incapacitation to a fire. But the question remains the same: are you and your passengers prepared?
Emergency evacuation training is required for all students each year with some variables in each state. What isn’t required is how best to structure that training — the “best practice.” Do you just train students on your regular route or include students who occasionally ride? What about children who usually ride your bus but missed the training? What about students who only ride the bus during field trips? What about parents and teachers who may ride the bus during field trips? What do you tell and show passengers during the training? Do you only have students “scoot” out of the back of the bus? What if the driver is incapacitated? Will passengers be able to open the door at the front of the bus? Regardless of the emergency, will the passengers on your bus know what to do to safely and quickly exit the bus?
The industry’s best practices derive from a multitude of sources that include but are not limited to the following:
• The National Congress on School Transportation (NCST) recommended in 2015 that training occur at least once per semester; be provided to all transported students; and include instruction in location and operation of all emergency exits, supervised emergency exit drills, and the teaching of age-appropriate safe travel curriculum to each student.
• The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says in Highway Safety Program Guide Number 17 that at least once per semester students should be instructed in safe riding practices, proper loading and unloading, proper street crossing to and from bus stops, and participate in timed emergency evacuation drills. Also, before each field trip, students should be instructed in safe riding practices and on the location and operation of emergency exits.
• In response to the Oakland, Iowa, fire, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has recommended that students be educated on how to operate the manual release handle for front-loading doors during evacuation training and drills.
For a thermal event, the science is irrefutable. In less than three minutes, the bus will be fully engulfed in flames. Will your passengers be able to safely and quickly exit the bus with or without the assistance of the driver?
The safety of all students in and around the bus is our highest priority. We work hard each and every day to ensure that all children are carried to school in the safest manner possible. Preparing them for emergencies is part of that commitment.
Here are some tips to consider as you conduct your training:
• Think of ways to ensure that all children (or as many children as possible) are included in the training.
• Work with your school’s PTA/PTO or school resource officer to engage parents, volunteers, and teachers in emergency training.
• Keep records of which students received training and what they were taught.
• Talk to the students after the training to reinforce the takeaways.
• Expand your training to encompass more than just “scooting” out the back.
• Time your drills to reinforce the urgency in a real emergency.
• Ensure students are trained in the operation of the manual release handle.
• Educate students on communicating with emergency services and dispatch in the event of driver incapacitation.