At this writing, the world had just learned of the horrific terrorist attacks in Brussels. The March 22 bombings at the international airport and a subway station in the Belgian capital city have left at least 31 dead and more than 200 injured.

The attacks underscore the fact that public transportation — which by its nature brings together great masses of people — is a common target for terrorists and others with malicious motives.

Here in the U.S. pupil transportation community, thoughts often turn back to the killing of Alabama school bus driver Charles Poland three years ago. The armed intruder who boarded Poland’s bus fatally shot the Dale County Schools driver and then took a 5-year-old boy hostage, holding him in an underground bunker. The standoff with authorities dragged on for nearly a week before FBI agents stormed the suspect’s bunker, killed him and rescued the boy.

The Dale County incident captured the world’s attention for a time, but it had a more profound and long-lasting impact on the pupil transportation community in Alabama and across the country.

As we reported, school bus security measures have been stepped up in a number of ways in Alabama since the slaying of Poland.

For one, the state’s subsequent passage of the Charles “Chuck” Poland Jr. Act made it a Class A misdemeanor to trespass on a school bus. The maximum fine for the offense was raised from $2,000 to $6,000, and violators can also be sentenced to a year in jail.

All of these incidents show that security threats can happen anywhere, from a small town in Alabama to the capital city of Belgium.

Also, new stickers on all Alabama school buses display a clear warning that trespassing on the bus is against the law.

In Dale County, the school district has been working with local law enforcement to bolster security training, and the district even donated an old school bus to be used in training efforts.

Keeping school buses and staff secure in the bus yard is another priority for many school districts and contractors across the nation.

As noted in one of our feature articles, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can conduct assessments of school bus facility security, and some operations have taken them up on that offer. Suffolk Transportation Service in New York is a great example: Their first assessment prompted them to make multiple security upgrades, and they even invited TSA back for a follow-up assessment.

Sometimes, security threats don’t directly involve school buses, but pupil transportation professionals are called on to help at the scene of a crisis. That was the case in the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, when school bus drivers evacuated runners and spectators away from the area.  

James Blue is general manager of School Bus Fleet.

James Blue is general manager of School Bus Fleet.

More recently, after the mass shooting in San Bernardino, California, that killed 14 people on Dec. 2, four Durham School Services drivers shuttled survivors from the scene to designated safe areas.

All of these incidents show that security threats can happen anywhere, from a small town in Alabama to the capital city of Belgium.

A tragedy like the terrorist attack in Brussels brings security sharply back into the limelight. But in the pupil transportation business, we should always be assessing the security of operations, looking for vulnerabilities, and taking proactive steps to safeguard passengers and staff.

In today’s world, school bus security should always be on the front burner.