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HomeSpecial ReportsWhat’s In your School Bus Evacuation Plan?

What’s In your School Bus Evacuation Plan?

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face,” professional boxer Mike Tyson once said. And while the quote may not seem fitting for transporting students with special needs, it can speak volumes to the importance of training and planning for an emergency.

Essentially, no student transporter wants to be caught flat-footed.

The Transporting Students with Disabilities and Special Needs Conference in Frisco, Texas, in November, discussed the various considerations that should be made when creating, planning and implementing emergency plans for the most at-risk student populations. Launi Harden, a consultant and retired director of transportation for Washington County School District in Utah, explained that children with disabilities might not retain everything they learn right away, which is why it’s important to discuss evacuation practices frequently with the student passengers. For instance, she suggested saying, “Remember, if an emergency were to happen, you need to do this …”

“I feel strongly that transportation should know how to get the child off the bus in an emergency before ever transporting them,” Harden added, noting evacuations need to be looked at from a total team perspective.

Go Bags for School Buses

Source: Diandra Neugent/Community Council of Idaho


Winter Go Bags

– Reflective Vests

– Multi-tool without a blade

– Emergency cell phone

– Flashlight with strobe light option

– Hand warmer: One per passenger

– Emergency blankets: One per passenger

– Mini folding shovel

– Cat Litter: 5- to 8-pound bag

– Ice scraper

– Winter Gloves

– Larger Garage Bag

– Portable charger/power bank solar

– Spare cell phone charging cables

– Duct Tape

– Spare batteries for flashlight

– Permanent marker

– Route map

– Include direction for emergency use: Example:

Dig out exhaust pipe if submerged in snow and engine is still running, attempt to contact help, note location on map of brake down location, disperse blankets and hand warmers till help arrives if no heat is available.


Go Bag

– Reflective vest

– Duct tape

– Large garbage bag

– Two small umbrellas

– Water bottles

– Compact mirror for signaling

– Multi-tool without a blade

– Portable charger/power bank solar

– Spare cell phone charger

– Route maps

– Permanent marker

– Bungie cords


Special Needs To-Go Bag

– Reflective Vest


– Fire Blanket

– Sensory items-stress balls, velvet soft scrunchies, bean bags, fidget toy, pop tubes, weighted vest

She said school bus drivers and attendants should be cross trained on each other’s responsibilities, in case something happens to either of them in an emergency. She continued that, if possible, students should also be trained on how to work equipment on the bus.

Fellow trainer Diandra Neugent, the transportation manager for the Community Council of Idaho, added that parental instincts tell you to grab the smallest children first in an emergency, but that’s not always the best course of action.

“We have to fight that instinct to save the many, over the sacrifice of the few,” she said. “Sometimes it’s taking them out of the seats or leaving them in their seats. What does that mean for you physically or mentally?”

Maybe it means the most mobile kids are already seated by the exists according to seating charts.

Kala Henkensiefken, special education transportation manager for Bemidji Area Schools in Minnesota, added that it’s also important to train drivers and parents. “Do parents know how to manually put the lift up and down? Do you have a child on the bus, that the child could help? Can they call into dispatch? Think about the abilities, not just their disabilities. What can that child do to help you on the bus if you can’t?” she advised. “What happens if you don’t have a second adult on the bus, or something happens when we’re 20 miles from town, what is that driver going to do? If the child is a runner?”

When doing drills with special needs students, the trainers noted it’s important to document everything and do it correctly, though in the child’s Individual Education Plan the trainers said to be mindful of what they include in writing. One attendee shared that they frequently go to their district nurse’s office and train on taking a child out of the wheelchair, placing them on a blanket, and then placing them back in the wheelchair to gain experience with the transfer. When discussing wheelchairs, the panelists agreed that it’s the best interest to leave the wheelchair behind.

Related: TSD Conference Rewind: Including Evacuation Plans in IEPs
Related: A New Way of Conducting Evacuation Drills

Henkensiefken said it’s important to know each child’s ability. Can they get out of the chair and scoot themselves out toward the aisle? Harden agreed, noting that if a child can transfer to the floor, they must be taught to do so with practice, if feasible, during drills. She noted that they must also be able to do it in two minutes or less.

“Love people and leave things,” Harden said. “I think that’s important to communicate with the student, especially if they are able to understand.”

When lifting students out of their wheelchair, is it a one-person job or two? Harden advised collaborating with physical therapists so they can train transportation staff in either a student-specific or general way.

Attorney and industry consultant Winship Wheatly, a retired director of transportation from Maryland, told attendees, “school bus drivers and bus personnel are heroes every day in small and large ways. The driver and aide are going to have to be the heroes and make the adjustments to the plan [on the fly].

He also noted that no matter how many times the evacuation plan is done in a drill, it won’t be the same on day of. “I want Mom to know what we are going to try to do, and I want them to understand what’s involved in a panic evacuation versus a drill,” he continued.

An attendee from Minnesota added that their state Good Samaritan law includes bus driver protection and liability for what happens in an emergency. The commenter noted that if the evacuation plan changes, the driver and aide are immune from liability as long as they did everything possible to evacuate the students.

Related: TSD Conference Partner Frisco ISD Transportation Team Reflects on District Growth
Related: TSD Conference Hosts Revised Child Passenger Safety on School Buses Training
Related: IEP Meetings: TSD Conference Panel Discusses the Who, When & What

Henkensiefken also advised planning for even something like a mechanical breakdown and transferring students from one bus to another.

Another attendee asked about what to do when the students are evacuated off a burning bus into inclement weather but coats were left behind.

Neugent said her Head Start operations has emergency go bags for each bus that are equipped with items such as blankets and hand warmers. Items must match the number of passengers on board. The driver also cannot leave the bus without that bag, she added.

“Importance of these to-go bags help our drivers and passengers when a bus becomes stuck or disabled and it may take 30 minutes to an hour for a backup bus to arrive to transfer students,” she added, noting that the district put them together themselves as they didn’t find anything online that meet their needs.

Read more about evacuation training for students with special needs in the January issue of School Transportation News.

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Do you conduct evacuation training more frequently for students with special needs?
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