Effective School Bus Evacuation Training Can Help Save Lives

Ronna Weber
Posted on August 28, 2019

Students from Mitchellville Elementary School in the Southeast Polk Community School District in Iowa demonstrate a school bus evacuation drill for attendees at the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association Conference in July 2019. Photo courtesy Iowa Department of Education
Students from Mitchellville Elementary School in the Southeast Polk Community School District in Iowa demonstrate a school bus evacuation drill for attendees at the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association Conference in July 2019. Photo courtesy Iowa Department of Education
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.

Ronna Weber is a consultant working with the American Bus Association.
Ronna Weber is a consultant working with the American Bus Association.

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.

Related Topics: bus fires, emergency planning, evacuation drills, NCST, NHTSA, NTSB

Comments ( 1 )
  • Andi Dalton

     | about 5 days ago

    Very helpful! Thanks.

More Stories
NAPT Conference and Trade Show scholarship deadlines are almost here. Shown here is Michael Martin, NAPT's executive director, speaking at the 2018 conference in Kansas City, Mo.
News

NAPT Scholarship Deadlines Approaching

The National Association for Pupil Transportation Conference and Trade Show deadline for two related scholarships is Sept. 18. The Sol Englander Innovation in School Transportation Safety Scholarship deadline is Oct. 11.

Isabel Lane of Wisconsin held the hand of a frightened student on his first day of school. A photo of the gesture taken by his mother is widely shared on social media. Photo courtesy Amy Johnson
News

Bus Driver Comforts Student on First Day of School

Isabel Lane of Wisconsin reaches her hand out to a frightened student on his first day of school after he boards the bus. A photo of the gesture taken by his mother is widely shared on social media.

Francine Furby, the director of transportation for Fairfax County Public Schools, says that the district’s discipline-tracking system “fosters a partnership with the schools and strengthens their support of our drivers.” Photo courtesy Fairfax County Public Schools
Article

Virginia District Bolsters Driver Support for Success

Fairfax County Public Schools backs its 1,325 drivers with a discipline-tracking system for better follow-up and puts driver supervisors on the road to assist as needed. Additionally, fleet upkeep is boosted with county-employed technicians.

Glenda Daughtry, who recently retired, had worked as a bus driver and teacher’s aide for Sampson County Schools in Clinton, N.C. Many districts in the state require certain staff members to obtain their CDL and drive buses when needed. Photo courtesy Vicki Westbrook
Article

Helping School Bus Drivers Turn Downtime Into Uptime

Texas and North Carolina transportation departments fill the gap in drivers’ schedules with work opportunities beyond more routes, such as administrative, cleaning, and technical tasks, and tap other staff to ease driver shortage. Meanwhile, an Illinois contractor offers space for socializing and relaxation.

In Iowa, lap-shoulder belts will be required on all new school buses ordered as of Oct. 2. File photo courtesy Des Moines (Iowa) Public Schools
News

Iowa to Require Seat Belts on All New School Buses

Lap-shoulder belts will be required on all new school buses ordered as of Oct. 2. Safety equipment such as a second stop arm, hand rails, exterior boarding lights, and fire-resistant crash barriers are also required.

Be the First to Know

Get the latest news and most popular articles from SBF delivered straight to your inbox. Stay on top of the school bus industry and don't miss a thing!