A pre-conference session kicked off Saturday at the 20th annual STN EXPO that addressed emergency planning and accident response for school bus drivers.
The session was presented by Brett Brooks, COO of Gray Ram Tactical LLC, a Missouri-based training and consulting firm that has provided training to numerous school districts on emergency and accident responses. Brooks told attendees that regardless of the type of emergency situation, school bus drivers would be able to handle any challenge or decision-making process if they learn and practice an all-hazards approach. This would mean that school districts would have to standardize their operating procedures for student transportation.
“If you have an all-hazards approach, then school bus drivers can take the same necessary steps to handle any situation,” said Brooks.
Situations mean all types of emergencies, such as various acts of violence, natural disasters, hijackings, acts of terrorism, even parental kidnappings, which in many cases aren’t taken into consideration. In creating standard operating procedures, Brooks said districts must first conduct a risk assessment to gauge the risk factor of certain events, and then identify all the different emergencies in order to look at the consequences of each emergency.
After realizing the risk level of each emergency, officials should then determine the types of resources available to the district, such as local police, emergency medical services, the Red Cross and churches. Brooks said before a real emergency occurs, “why not, as a district, reach out and make contact with these resources?”
He also emphasized that the key thing to remember is most emergencies can be prevented, if drivers keep a cool head, which will enable them to rely on a standard operating procedure. But as easy as that might sound, it is the most difficult thing to do during a crisis situation, Brooks noted.
One main practice for bus drivers, he said, should be learning tactical breathing – breathing in and out, and holding one’s breath, all to the count of four – which naturally calms a person’s heart rate down and, in turn, helps them to think and focus better. An increase in heart rate hinders drivers from thinking, speaking and reacting clearly.
In fact, Brooks suggested that drivers be trained to practice dialing 911 during emergency drills, because in many actual cases, he said, people have not been able to see the numbers on a phone due to a high level of stress.
“You’d be surprised how fast the heart rate increases during an emergency. Even during an emergency drill, drivers’ heart rate will go up,” he said.
Another practice to incorporate into emergency training for drivers is the OODA Loop model; a concept developed by a colonel during the Korean War and is now used by the U.S. Marines and other groups. The premise of the model is that decision-making is the result of rational behavior in which problems are viewed as a cycle of Observation, Orientation (situational awareness), Decision-Making, and Action. This loop, combined with the standardize training for natural disasters, accidents and other emergencies, will reduce the chances of a driver freezing up and not taking the proper action, which can end in tragedy.
“If the cycle is interrupted, then you’re bound to fail,” Brooks said.
Brook’s tips for school bus drivers if an emergency happens:
- Stay calm
- Help yourself
- Call for help
- Notify your supervisors
- Control the situation
- Reduce future hazards
- Follow your procedures
- Follow your policies
- Avoid interpersonal conflicts