Picture this: You are in the desert, there are several sarcophagi around you, sand on the ground, and everything you touch could potentially be a clue on how to get out. It’s an escape room, and you’re trapped inside for the next 45 minutes.
Thomas Built Buses hosted an evening event during the 51st annual National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) conference at a similar venue in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
Now, I had only participated in an escape room event once before, and let’s just say it did not go as I had planned. To say I was hesitant about jumping into a tight space with a new group of “strangers” is an understatement.
About eight or 10 people per room were randomly selected. The participants were then led down a staircase into a darker, much smaller room.
The people in my group were of different races, ethnicities and ages from all over the U.S., and we all offered a different piece to the puzzle. While everyone was in the same room with the same objects at our disposal, our brains saw different pieces and thought up different scenarios.
We sat in that room for 35 minutes and extricated ourselves out with about five minutes to spare. But what actually happened inside those walls? Problem-solving.
There were times when five buttons needed to be pressed at once to open-up a secret entrance. One person couldn’t have pushed all of the buttons by themselves, just like one person can’t run a transportation department alone, as I was learning.
An escape room is how I would describe my first experience at the NASDPT annual conference.
Picture this: You’re sitting at a desk in a conference room with a group of diverse people around you. They all come armed with different ideas to solve various challenges. Some have been in the industry for decades and are retiring soon, while others are just starting out in the industry. At the front of the room, someone is speaking.
While the goal is different than in the escape room, the back and forth banter and questions between participants remained the same. Attendees came with opportunities, others brought challenges, but they all worked together to create guidelines in an attempt to solve the issues of the day.
Whether it was the driver shortage, installation of fire suppression systems, discussion on seatbelts, or reporting challenges within their district, each person their own complications, yet hoped to leave with guidance.
Whatever challenges you may be having at your school district, there are other directors out there who are either going through a similar challenge or have beat the obstacle altogether. They can help you was the message.
The mix of transportation directors and state directors proved vital for conversations. Each presenter discussed the importance of creating relationships, whether that is with law enforcement officials, homeless education liaisons or city administrators. The conference also focused on creating open channels of communications for bus drivers to report their concerns, and to be able to report it anonymously.
And while conversations were generated mostly in the conference room, they also filtered out to the lunch area, where smaller groups were able to talk through the presentations that stuck with them.
Related: School Bus Fire Suppression Highlighted in NTSB Report and Federal Legislation
Related: Update: FMCSA Seeks to Propose Delay to Entry-Level Driver Training Rule
Related: School Bus Crash Research for 2018-2019 Highlights Challenges of Crossing Students
Related: NTSB Calls for Fire Suppression Systems in All School Buses
Related: Latest NASDPTS Survey Reminds of School Bus Illegal Passing Dangers
In particular, the installation of fire suppression systems is an especially demanding topic right now. The National Transportation Safety Board recommended that every school bus, old or new, be equipped with this system after the fatal Oakland, Iowa school bus crash in 2017.
While some state directors aren’t ready to agree about funding priorities, others were cautious and suggested at least bringing it up to their school boards and letting them make the final financial decisions.
With all of the technology out there promising to make school buses safer, how do you choose which one is best for your operation? How do you know what technology is best suited for you and your needs? Well, that’s where their dialogue demonstrated the importance of studying other professionals’ experiences.
The conference forced you to talk to the people, who might otherwise be intimidating, about their experience and knowledge. But that experience and knowledge might be of importance for a newcomer. And vice-versa. A newcomer, a rising star might offer a new problem-solving technique, a new perspective, that may not have crossed anyone’s mind before.
The conference encouraged people to come together and work together to solve a common goal—just like an escape room.