Image: Canva

Image: Canva

In today's climate, data collected across the industry would show a steady rise of violence and the threat of violence throughout the service sector, specifically within the transportation industry, including school transportation

From a student transportation business perspective, these incidents result in injuries, organizational health concerns, employee fatigue, and increased liability. When these acts occur on or around the school bus, they affect impressionable children who may not have the same coping skills as adults. Unfortunately, this is only one aspect of security regarding school buses. Other security risks include theft, vandalism, or, in the worst-case scenario, terrorism. 

School bus operators must focus on building, instilling, managing, and maintaining a security culture that supports operations and reduces risk while protecting their precious cargo. 

Hardening the Last Soft Target

Ever since the Columbine tragedy, every security thought and practice has been aimed at the campus. Hardening buildings, controlled access, classroom barricades, active-shooter drills, and even armed security or police officers have been added to the educational process. These items and others align with security risk-management practices. Security professionals are taught to identify the assets and risks and apply the appropriate mitigation strategy that aligns with the operational flow of the organization. That is exactly what is happening when it comes to school security. So how does that align with the school bus operations?

From a risk perspective, the yellow school bus is one of the most recognizable vehicles in the world. It is commonplace and seen as a non-threatening staple in any community. Because of that, it is also the most easily dismissed as a threat. The security risks associated with school bus operations are far and wide, from the actions of disgruntled parents and students to the typical workplace issues that all industries face. Research also shows that mental health crises have increased worldwide in adults and children, leading to challenging situations that must be handled appropriately. The right security program can help you navigate these difficult situations.

There has also been an increase in theft, particularly catalytic converter theft, and a school bus is the perfect target, so securing assets for operational continuity is essential to protect your employees and passengers while supporting your customers. Unfortunately, we must also consider a school bus being stolen with nefarious intent. Therefore, it is important to instill a security culture or mindset within the drivers, front-line workers, mechanics, dispatchers, and local leaders.

A mantra as simple as “See Something, Say Something” helps create awareness and reporting of situations so they can be managed appropriately. The goal is to create a security program that reduces risk to all aspects of your operations while building partnerships with stakeholders and other business partners to deliver value. 

Developing a Holistic Security Approach

So, how do we accomplish a holistic security approach? First, security must be considered a fundamental expression of proactive business philosophy. This means more than simply dealing with security incidents when they happen. It is a commitment to protect and develop your assets and to help achieve your business objectives. To lay out such a program takes time, but if the right security foundation is created, you can develop more risk-averse operations that become more effective and efficient in their day-to-day processes.

Security begins with identifying all your business resources: people, property, assets, and information. You can then design and implement a security program that safeguards your investments. This process will include assessing operations externally and internally, ongoing management and ownership from asset holders, compliance testing, and training and awareness. The objective is to create layers of security to accomplish deterrence, denial, detection, and response capabilities. Items like perimeter security, lighting, locks, alarms, and CCTV may all play a vital part in securing the bus yard, not to mention the keys, mechanics tools, employee files, and IT infrastructure. It may also mean real-time GPS tracking of assets, geo-fencing or route deviation alerts, remote shutoff capabilities, or even panic buttons. You will never plan for all contingencies; the goal is to have a strong awareness of your security culture with timely notifications and appropriate responses to manage incidents effectively.

A strategically placed, properly staffed, and experienced corporate security team within an organization can allow you to identify and vet security risks proactively and is an essential first step to helping establish a security culture. That team should be tasked with staying keenly aware of national and international security concerns and aligning proactive solutions to strengthen operations. 

For example, a proper security department should be considered a business partner. One that can work with your customers, local, state, and federal partners, and employees to provide best-in-class security risk-mitigation for your enterprise. Some of those mitigation strategies include:

  • A dedicated security manager to lead the program at the operational level.
  • Monthly security updates and awareness meetings with leaders and other business partners.
  • A program that trains selected local leaders in security risk mitigation to inject the security culture into front-line operations.
  • Vetting and providing cost-effective security solutions.
  • A robust library of security quick-reference guides.
  • Security awareness training for all employees.  

This should stimulate thought and invigorate imagination so that the last soft target in school security can be seen from a risk-averse mindset. It is so school bus operators, whether public or private, can understand the importance of security on and around the bus. Unfortunately, we will never eradicate crime or security incidents. However, an effective risk-mitigation strategy will create layers of security that will help build a security culture that supports a safe and productive environment for all.

Joe Redmond is currently the Senior Manager of Security, supporting First Student, its 600-plus physical locations, and 50,500 employees. He joined First Student in 2019 and has almost 30 years of military, law enforcement, and private-sector security experience. He has led several initiatives to secure vetted security vendors, reduce costs, and increase efficiency by reevaluating physical security and the security culture at various locations. He is a Certified Protection Professional (CPP) through ASIS international.