When I think about safety I always come back to the following definition: Freedom from risk. Schools are constantly facing the issue of risk as kids are transported on the school bus. And for many school districts, safety comes in the form of driver training or technology to mitigate that risk. All the effort and expense goes toward decreasing the chance of a minor or major accident. But even when measures are taken, bad behaviors and crashes can still occur with a negative outcome.
I turned to the internet to see what recent safety incidents had been reported, and the most common and frequently reported item was a school bus crash. Are you surprised? Probably not.
The graphic images of smashed school buses littered different news web sites. One recent headline on Fox News read, “Idaho school bus crash: 12 students hospitalized after vehicle rolls over.” They reported that the driver, 67-year-old Richard Mecham, drove off the right shoulder, overcorrected and rolled the 2011 school bus last month, according to Idaho State Police. The crash remained under investigation at this writing. But do you think could this crash could have been prevented with proper driver training or stability control technology currently available?
KBOI 2News in Idaho added that Marie Mecham’s 14-year-old son, perhaps a relative of the driver, was on the school bus said she knows many others who were as well. “In this tight-knit community everybody knows everybody,” she said. “Everybody was scared and worried. Many parents went down there and we have all been on Facebook and texting each other, asking about our kids, and I was asking about theirs.”
When something does go wrong, does your department have a crisis communication strategy in place? Is there a document that expresses the goals and methods of your organization’s outreach activities? Does your district use Facebook or Twitter or other forms of social media to communicate with parents and community members in times of crisis?
According to ready.gov, when an emergency occurs the need to communicate is immediate. An important component of the preparedness program is the crisis communications plan. A school district must be able to respond promptly, accurately and confidently during an emergency and in the hours and days that follow. Many different audiences must be reached with information specific to their interests and needs. The image of the school can be positively or negatively impacted by public perceptions of the handling of the incident.
Forbes states that people seem to become most interested in news or promotions when they feel emotion, which oftentimes encourages us to respond. This is why stories go “viral.” So, its best to address incidents immediately.
Other methods of proactive community outreach is by using video. YouTube provides a great way to disseminate content to a worldwide audience. A safety training video called School Bus Safety caught my eye with over 7.71 million views, running at 5:54 minutes uploaded back on Sept. 16, 2008. The video starts out with the headline “Bus Safety, Evacuation and Rules.” A student provides a walk though on the best evacuation points and identifies the emergency release levers at the doors, hatches and windows. Basic knowledge for any transportation professional but this is the outward facing message students, parents and anybody surfing the internet can consume. Another safety training video from Leon County Schools had over 1.76 million views. That’s an impressive number for any video but to promote safety is good for everyone.
There are countless videos that have a positive outlook on school buses, ranging from a kindergarten student’s first ride to school bus parades. These are tactics every school transportation department should consider. But video in this open forum can also shine a negative light on the yellow bus with graphic videos displaying school buses on fire, children being dragged, illegal passing incidents, fighting, bullying and crashes. These negative videos damage the credibility of our school transportation community making parents question the safety of school buses and therefore reduce student ridership.
It should be our goal as professionals to provide a safe environment for children to go to school but its also our responsibility to tell that story to our communities. Talk to your school district communications team and if you don’t have one talk to your boss about steps you can take to help improve the image of the yellow bus for the kids and parents.
Reprinted from the May 2017 issue of School Transportation News magazine.