A key part of school districts’ emergency preparedness is having a fast and reliable notification system in place to alert parents and staff of any incident, from a major emergency to a minor change, that directly impacts students — and often their transportation.
As the fall season approaches, transportation officials are preparing for inclement weather that can interfere with school bus routing and schedules. Brad Carpenter, co-owner of Brown Bus Company in Nampa, Idaho, said they experience rough winters every couple of years. During his 21 years in student transportation, he recalls just one time when a major storm hit during school hours, prompting district officials to send students home early to avoid the worst of it.
“We brought them home about 90 minutes earlier. We had a rough day. We had kids and buses stuck in the snow throughout the district. The last kid got home in a four-wheel drive truck at 8:30 that night,” said Carpenter.
“The concern is when you take kids home, there might not be anyone there to greet them. It has be a pretty drastic situation to take them home early like that,” he continued.
This is where parental notification comes in. Transportation Director Mike Reinders of Winnebago (Ill.) School District #323 said his district relies on an automated calling system, as well as local TV and radio, to inform parents of any school schedule changes.
“We do not delay starts, but we do cancel school when conditions arise, whether it is a mechanical problem or weather related,” he noted.
Lionel Pinn, transportation director for the Centralia/Chehalis Pupil Transportation Cooperative in western Washington, pointed out the importance of notifying bus drivers when a bad storm gets worse. This can be “a real test” when there is an important sports event or long-planned field trip in jeopardy due to worsening conditions, he said.
“When the conditions get to a point of uncertainty, the professional driver sitting behind the wheel of the bus will make the final decision regarding the continuation of a trip, whether we should leave earlier from a game, no questions asked,” Pinn said, adding that posting winter schedules and routing information online helps put parents’ minds at ease.
“There are Internet mapping programs that allow users to develop very professional and easy-to-read location information about the adjusted snow route pickup areas,” he explained. “Practically everyone has access to the Internet.”
Sending out Instant Updates
For faster transmission of vital information, many transportation directors and fleet managers turn to high-tech notification systems that work with GPS and can instantly tell parents exactly where their child is located and his or her ETA. Blackboard Connect offers AlertNow and Connect-ED, two tools that allow districts to quickly send out voice calls, email or short message service (SMS) notifications during an emergency, whether or not it is weather related. The Zonar ZPass+ notification service quickly provides parents and guardians with student-specific ridership information via its secure website or their smartphone, according to the company.
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