I have often been amazed and inspired by the ability of school bus drivers to perform under life and death stress.
The school bus driver who calmly evacuated the students from his bus after the tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis a few years ago and the stellar performance of Angely Perry in Henryville, Ind., last year when a tornado was bearing down on her busload of students are two examples that come to mind. The credit for their heroic and amazing performance under extreme stress goes as well to their transportation directors and to the field of pupil transportation.
One approach that has been found over more than three decades to boost human performance under life and death conditions is called mental simulation. To oversimplify the concept, mental simulation (also sometimes referred to as visualization) involves visualizing a particular crisis situation and then working through the problem mentally. This helps to create what noted expert Lt. Col. Dave Grossman refers to as a mental library that we can rapidly draw from when we face a life and death situation. Col. Grossman relates that when people experience "their life flashing before their eyes" during a near death experience, it is caused by our brain rapidly searching their life experience for a solution to the problem they face.
Respected researcher Gary Klein has studied decision-making by military personnel, pilots, fire fighters, medical personnel and others who routinely must make life and death decisions. Dr. Klein and his team found that when people have a solid base of experience, they can make effective decisions with remarkable accuracy. Like Col. Grossman, Klein suggests that people practice mental simulation with a range of situations to prepare themselves for this type of decision making.
Pilots, police officers and soldiers have used video simulators for decades to practice running through a wide array of crisis situations where split second actions are required to avert death. In the same manner, school bus drivers are now being trained using video as well as scripted crisis scenarios so they can practice the selection of logical action steps for a wide array of situations. While video simulation is among the most powerful and vivid approaches, the use of verbal and scripted crisis scenarios is also effective and allows drivers to practice for catastrophic events that can be difficult to create in video format. Perhaps the most important consideration for mental simulation is not how the scenarios are presented but the variety of scenarios utilized to provide a broader range of experiences.
Mental simulation is an easy and effective way to prepare transportation personnel to more effectively address school bus crisis situations.