Orlando. San Bernardino. San Bernardino, again. Fresno. The list of recent mass shootings, whatever the senseless and abhorrent reasons of the perpetrators, adds to a frightening new normal in our society. The list, tragically, continues to grow, seemingly every month.
Airports, shopping malls, schools and even school buses are not immune to the violence.
Last month, Virginia Tech University remembered the worst mass school killing in U.S. history 10 years ago, when 32 students died and dozens more were injured amid a spray of bullets from a disturbed 23-year-old student.
It’s shocking to realize that the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School occurred five years ago this coming December. And next Jan. 29 will mark the fifth anniversary of Chuck Poland’s murder on board his Alabama school bus as his horrified students watched, the gunman fleeing with a 6-year-old boy with autism and holing up in an underground bunker for four days until an FBI S.W.A.T. team killed the perpetrator and rescued the student.
Such incidents and countless others have given rise to national and local training exercises designed to provide school bus drivers, their trainers and student transportation management with the necessary tools to respond in the face of an emergency.
Last fall, NAPT partnered with the Transportation Security Administration and local Kansas City law enforcement agencies to perform a full day of exercise, training and strategy sessions for dealing with several possible criminal scenarios on the bus. School Transportation News has teamed with TSA on a number of occasions at the STN EXPO to provide attendees with similar exercises, including training on the federal First Observer program for school bus drivers to report suspicious activities.
This year, we are contracting with Jesus Villahermosa, Jr., founder and owner of Crisis Reality Training, Inc., for special training sessions on “Defensible Use of Force on the Bus” for drivers and staff as well as “Survival Tactics for the Active Killer on the Bus.”
The most realistic security event for school bus drivers, according to experts, is likely a run-in with a disgruntled parent trying at the stop. In the heat of the moment, Mom or Dad may illegally board the bus, perhaps get hands-on. But, as too many news reports over the years indicated, something far more nefarious may occur. That’s not to mention a student fight erupting during a route. In today’s day and age, how exactly is a school bus driver to react?
School district or bus company policy may dictate the driver must not get involved, especially in the latter example of breaking up student fight. But bus drivers live in a world of reality, not what ifs. Best practices can quickly—and literally—go out the window when push comes to shove. Providing assurances and de-escalation tools to driver can go a long way, especially amid the current shortage nationwide.
This summer in Reno we are also providing dispatcher training through the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute for these vital employees who are communicating with the front-line drivers via two-way radio. Dispatchers must also document parental and community complaints and at times serves as a school district spokesperson, certainly at least a representative. They, too, need the proper tools and techniques to increase security, safety and professionalism of operations. And, as PTSI will point out, dispatchers can also contribute to and even directly influence positive employee morale.
And that takes us to an overall theme of this year’s STN EXPO: Building winning cultures in transportation. There is much more to the conference July 7-12 in Reno, Nevada, and we invite you to take a closer look this month and next. But certainly, safety and security of that nation’s bus routes, student passengers, the employees who drive them and those who dispatch them are paramount to the continued success of both the industry and local operations.
Reprinted from the May 2017 issue of School Transportation News magazine.