Tina Meuser (left) and Yvonne Dennings, two dispatchers from Elk Grove Unified School District, shared tips for effective radio communication during the California Association of School Transportation Officials’ annual conference.

Tina Meuser (left) and Yvonne Dennings, two dispatchers from Elk Grove Unified School District, shared tips for effective radio communication during the California Association of School Transportation Officials’ annual conference.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Effective radio communication between dispatchers and drivers requires more than just uniform procedure, one session revealed at this year's California Association of School Transportation Officials (CASTO) conference.

Yvonne Dennings and Tina Meuser, two dispatchers from Elk Grove Unified School District (USD), discussed with attendees how to practice brief, concise, and impersonal radio communication while also considering voice perception.

Using Elk Grove USD’s transportation department as an example, Dennings and Meuser highlighted several key two-way radio protocols, including:

  • Keeping the radio on and at an audible level at all times.
  • Ensuring that users give the name or identifier of the unit they are calling before transmitting a message.
  • Holding the microphone approximately one inch away from the lips, at an angle of about 45 degrees.
  • Pressing the transmit button, hesitating for a count of two, and then speaking slowly and clearly across the mouthpiece in a normal voice.

“It’s just like sending a text message,” Dennings explained. “You never know how a person may be feeling when they’re sending a [text] message. Over the radio, you want to keep it the same way; it’s important to level your tone and have no inflection in your voice.”

Matt Sanchez, the transportation director for Elk Grove USD, also advised attendees to be mindful of the language they use when referring to students and how to communicate when there is an emergency on or off the school bus.

Matt Sanchez, the transportation director for Elk Grove USD, encouraged drivers to be mindful of the language they use when there is an emergency on or off the school bus.

Matt Sanchez, the transportation director for Elk Grove USD, encouraged drivers to be mindful of the language they use when there is an emergency on or off the school bus.

For example, he told attendees, “If you’re transporting a student who uses a wheelchair, you never want to refer to them as ‘that wheelchair kid.’ You always want to use the most appropriate words and refer to them as students.”

In this case, he added, it would be best to say, “I am transporting a student who uses a wheelchair.”

Another scenario Sanchez mentioned was how to disclose to dispatchers and school staff that a student is lost or missing.

“You never want to say a student is lost prematurely; that evokes panic for the school and parents involved,” he added. “You simply want to say a student is ‘misplaced.’”

At Elk Grove, currently all of the district’s buses are equipped with tablets that allow drivers to scan students on and off the bus, in hopes of reducing the chance of any misplaced students, Meuser added. For attendees who may not have tablets on their buses, she stressed the importance of having dispatchers provide drivers with consistent, up-to-date records of student routing information and giving drivers access to multiple radio channels to disclose any emergency information.

Dennings told attendees that the same rules would apply in the event of a school bus accident.

“The dispatcher’s first responsibility is to keep the driver calm and focused,” she said. “You need to remind drivers to assess the scene and organize their thoughts. They need to be able to communicate [to the dispatcher] the location, how many students are on the bus, are there other vehicles involved, and are there any injuries or damages.”

In addition to the strategies mentioned above, Dennings and Meuser noted several radio practices to avoid. These included participating in unnecessary radio chatter, disrespectful communication, distributing excessive weather/traffic-related information, and not considering confidentiality when disclosing student information.

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