Special Needs Transportation

South Carolina District Refines Special-Needs Bus Evacuation

Kelly Roher, Senior Editor
Posted on July 1, 2009
Transportation personnel at Greenville(S.C.) County Schools have developedan innovative special-needsschool bus evacuation program thatincludes a color-coded system to help driversand aides identify the degree of eachstudent’s disability, resulting in a safer andmore efficient evacuation.

Special-Education Bus Supervisors TeenaCorwin and Judy Cox, along with SafetyOfficers/Trainers Melanie MacDonald andSharon Evans, created the program as partof an effort to offer more training for the district’sbus drivers.

“We’ve been in the process of changingthe way we do our training,” Corwin says.“In the past, our special-needs evacuationprogram was treated as regular ed, and werealized that it needed its own program.”

In the planning stages, Corwin, Cox, Mac-Donald and Evans determined that theywanted a program that would allow driversand aides to have a plan in mind for evacuatingstudents in an emergency.

“When we tried to figure out how we coulddo this, we had already categorized the studentsin our minds,” Corwin explains. “Weknew that a certain set of students neededto be supervised at all times and that anothergroup didn’t, and a color-coded systemwas the easiest way that we could categorizethem.”

Corwin says the color-coded system isalso more effective than basing the categorizationon the students’ disabilities.

“If a bus was turned over and therewere other people at the scene to help,it’s faster to say, ‘Grab a hold of the studentsin the red dot zone and stay withthem at all times,’ rather than trying todescribe their disability and saying thatthey’re not capable of helping themselves,”Corwin says.

School bus drivers and their supervisorswork together to decide which colorcode (green, yellow or red) best describeseach student’s disability. Greensignifies that the child has a mild mentaldisability, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivitydisorder, or is mildly physicallydisabled but can disembark thebus without supervision. The studentmay also help other students evacuate.

Yellow indicates that a student hasa disability that necessitates some assistancein evacuating, such as beingblind or deaf or having a mild case ofDown syndrome.

Red signifies a student with a severedisability who requires constant supervisionand assistance to evacuate thebus. Students with autism, substantialphysical disabilities and severe behavioraldisorders fall into this category.

Once the students have been categorizedunder one of these colors, red, yellow or green magnetic dots areplaced above the windows next to eachstudent’s seat. Each student’s name iswritten on a magnet with a dry-erasemarker. If a student’s seat is moved,his or her dot must be transferred tothe new seating location.

Pairing students with minor disabilitieswhenever possible during anemergency is encouraged to expeditethe evacuation process. “If you havea child that is blind and another thatisn’t, they could get off the bus togetherbecause they don’t need constant supervision,”Corwin explains. “They arecapable of taking direction and followingthrough with it.”

Corwin, Cox, MacDonald and Evansimplemented their program on atrial basis at the South Carolina special-needs roadeo in January. Usingit helped two Greenville CountySchools’ driver and aide teams placein the top three.

Corwin and her colleagues are nowimplementing the program at the department.Training classes are beingheld for all of the special-needs schoolbus drivers and aides, where they arepresented with the following scenario:

A school bus has been involved in arear-end collision, and the vehicle underthe back of the bus is on fire. Thebus driver and aide have two minutes to evacuate the bus before a loss of lifeoccurs. There is one wheelchair-boundstudent on the bus, one autistic student,a student who is blind and twostudents who have mild learning andbehavioral disabilities.

Trainees act as these students duringthe instruction session. Theyboard the bus, red, yellow or greendots are placed above them, and theirdisabilities are explained. The trainersthen demonstrate an evacuation ofthe trainees.

During the demonstration, the driversecures the bus, calls in the emergency,hangs the radio out the window andshuts down the engine to hinder thespreading of the fire. Meanwhile, theaide releases the wheelchair tiedowns.

The driver then folds out the lift andreadies it for a manual descent. Whilethe aide puts the wheelchair on the liftand lowers it manually, the driver pairsand evacuates the other students, keepingin mind that students with a red dotcannot be left alone. After the evacuationis complete, the aide stays with thestudents and the driver checks the bus.

Based on the department’s success atthe special-needs roadeo, Corwin believesthis program will immensely benefit its drivers, aides and the 800 special-needsstudents they serve in a realsituation that requires a bus evacuation.

“Until we came up with this program,we couldn’t make the two-minutewindow,” Corwin says. “Whenwe did a bus evacuation for the stateroadeo last year, we always lost someone.With this program, we’ve madethe two-minute mark every time, sothis is very good, life-saving training.”

In particular, Corwin says that determiningwhich students can and cannotbe left alone has been instrumental tothe program’s effectiveness.

“Initially, we just focused on gettingstudents off the bus, and we didn’t takeinto consideration those that we’venow coded red,” she says. “When wetook these students off the bus [duringpractice sessions], they ran away. Havinga plan has allowed us to safelyevacuate students within the two-minutewindow.”

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