Residents and tourists along the Florida Gulf Coast dodged Tropical Storm Elsa, which was bringing heavy rain and winds to the Northeast into the weekend. It is the latest weather event that has caught the attention of student transporters.
James Beekman, the general manager of transportation for the School District of Hillsborough County in the Tampa area, reported that Elsa caused only minimal damage, such as to the district’s bus wash equipment.
“We actually closed [Wednesday] for the storm, but fortunately it was mostly a rain event and moved through pretty quickly,” he added. “We dismissed our summer school program early on Tuesday prior to the storm in order to get kids home before the weather turned too bad.”
As with other Florida school districts—and any along the Gulf Coast or Atlantic Coast that regularly deal with tropical storms—Hillsborough County has a standard protocol for hurricane season, he explained.
Prior to the season, transportation staff obtain a list of bus drivers and attendants who volunteer to work during emergencies and provide training.
“We always send them out in teams of at least two when we assist in evacuating citizens to shelters,” added Beekman, who is also the president of the Florida Association for Pupil Transportation. “We primarily evacuate special needs. However, we also do many trailer parks and those in low-lying areas.”
When a storm descends on the area, buses are pulled from the road just prior to 35 mph sustained winds. Meanwhile, the bus drivers ensure they top off their vehicle fuel tanks, and Beekman’s team ensures that necessary deliveries reach the bus terminals prior to a storm making landfall.
Additionally, he said the district parks the buses close together to minimize the effects of wind and debris damage, and the main terminal has a backup generator to operate fuel pumps
“While we can try and plan, the path is always a bit uncertain when it is close to you. Our number one threat are tornados that are created by the storm,” Beekman added.
As of Friday morning, Elsa was moving through Virginia and nearing New Jersey, with 50 mph sustained winds, according to the National Hurricane Center. Advisories are in effect for New York’s Long Island, and parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts.