First Student at the beginning of this school year enhanced its in-service training by incorporating new risk-assessment-based training for its school bus drivers that teaches them how to maintain a security mindset at all times to keep threats off the yellow bus.
Now halfway into the school year, First Student driver trainers are following up with their drivers on that training, said Gary Catapano, First Student’s senior vice president of safety. He noted that a number of events did occur where drivers took action as a result of this training — from escalating situations and instances where an individual would have been harmed in some way, to gang-related incidents, in addition to unauthorized parents trying to board a bus to seek retribution.
“We look at every one of these events to review how drivers respond, and from what I’ve seen, the training made a difference in a positive way,” he added.
The risk-assessment driver training material, called “School Bus Security During Loading and Unloading,” was crafted by a work group under the National School Transportation Association’s Safety & Security Committee, which Catapano chairs, and was introduced at NSTA’s July 22 annual meeting and convention in Tulsa, Okla. The training material, consisting of a PowerPoint presentation and accompanying video segments, is available to all NSTA members.
The work group included NSTA members and executives from the U.S. Transportation Security Administration and the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute. They worked on appropriate assessment techniques and response actions specifically aimed at helping bus drivers. Some of the training stems from the TSA’s Highway and Motor Carrier bulletin — intended mainly for awareness purposes — that outlines actions to take in the event of an active shooter.
Much of the training material was developed in reaction to the Jan. 30 Midland, Ala., incident that involved the shooting of school bus driver Charles Poland, Jr., by a trespassor who after murdering Poland kidnapped a special needs boy from the bus.
Catapano noted that First Student’s major training focus at the beginning of this school year was lessons learned from the that incident as well as the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. He explained that while First Student provides extensive safety training pertaining to passenger management and avoiding or preventing collisions and safety events from happening, this new training focuses on the security aspect of student transportation.
“Before, the training was scenario-based, but this [new training] differed in the sense that we’re trying to zero-in on very specific issues from the event in Alabama,” he said. “The basic concepts were centered around how we could teach drivers to risk-assess the bus stop, and people and vehicles at a bus stop on their approach, and make a judgment on what preventative strategies the driver can pursue based on that risk assessment.”
Catapano described the days when school bus drivers would arrive at school, park and casually have the door open while waiting for students.
“The lesson from [the] Sandy Hook [incident] is, those days are long gone,” he explained. “As a transportation entity providing services, we play a role, because there are things we must be vigilant about. We have to remain in high alert and to maintain that security environment awareness.”