Student safety in crisis situations

04/01/2012  |  Dan Roberts
Student Safety

Recent shootings illustrate that students in schools are vulnerable as easy targets. Whether by students, extremist groups, or, potentially, by foreign terrorists, students in schools are subject to numerous vulnerabilities. Attacks on students in schools generate global media coverage, panic across the country, and serious peripheral economic and social damage.

School personnel also need to be concerned with the safety of students both inside and outside school buses. Protecting the safety of students while in school and on school buses is a priority of our Homeland Security efforts.

Why School Facilities are Vulnerable

Both school and school bus facilities are typically built with an inviting and open style. Schools have been designed to be warm, parent-accessible structures that provide a sense of community to the district with few restrictions for access. Unfortunately, the basic design makes them more vulnerable than most other potential targets. They run on set schedules with large numbers of people in a concentrated area. They typically do not have a heightened sense of security so vehicles or people moving around school sites do not trigger a cause for concern.

School bus facilities, while not as accessible as schools, are still generally not restricted locations and so may provide ease of access that makes them vulnerable to attacks. Security at school bus facilities is generally minimal; with parking lots unlocked or not monitored on a full-time basis.

School buses may be even more vulnerable. School buses have the capacity to carry large amounts of explosive materials and could be used to place such devices close to a designated target. Because school buses are generally not considered a threat, they often bypass standard security screening procedures.

Four-Stage Approach to Prevention

  1. One of the easiest prevention measures for school buses is to expand normal pre- and post- trip inspections. Pre- and post-trip inspections are the most effective security programs to prevent extremist activities. All bus drivers should perform pre-trip inspections anytime they are away from the bus for a period of time.
  2. Additionally, drivers should always practice good housekeeping. They should pick up after every run and keep the bus clean enough that they can easily detect unusual objects. Housekeeping missteps make it harder to detect potentially dangerous objects.

    Pre-trip inspections designed to counteract potential threats and ensure student safety go beyond making sure the bus is mechanically sound. They are designed to find explosives on the bus before students are in danger. This means performing a thorough under the bus inspection, including wheel wells, exhaust system, fuel/air tanks, areas around the battery box and electrical panel; thoroughly checking for new wires or devices under the hood; and looking inside the bus, under the dash, and inside the bulkheads for any new packages, backpacks, or boxes.
  3. The next step is to harden the bus storage facility to external threat. Districts should take every precaution to protect school buses from potential threats. This includes fencing the facility, keeping private cars out of the bus parking area, restricting and/or monitoring all entrances and exits. Additional consideration should be given to active monitoring of the bus parking area and increasing overall visibility by creating sight lines down the parking lot aisles, trimming shrubs to allow visibility and deter intruders, keeping adequate lighting to make activity after dark visible. If a chain-link fence is used for perimeter protection, the gauge should be small enough to deter unauthorized access over the top of the fence.
  4. The final step is to implement procedures and training to detect and prevent terrorism attacks. Continuous training in terrorism awareness should be the norm. Everyone should be trained to mitigate potential threats. This develops a safety culture not just to reduce accidents but to prevent crisis incidents through awareness.

Crisis Preparedness

How do schools and school bus administrators ensure they become more difficult targets for extremists or terrorists? They must begin by developing activities that can eliminate or reduce the potential for an attack and mitigate the effects of other unavoidable disasters.

Exercises help save lives and minimize damage by preparing people to respond appropriately when an emergency is imminent. Preparedness includes planning to respond when an emergency or disaster occurs and working to increase resources available to respond effectively. It also supports local, regional, and statewide emergency preparedness and response activities.

Schools should know about weapons and explosive devices. Knowledge about what a weapon or device can do will lead to decisions about evacuation or shelter-in-place plans and how they need to be adjusted. School personnel need to know how weapons and explosive devices look to maximize detection potentials.

It is recommended that schools participate in Table Top Drills at least two times per year to plan an emergency response. They should implement Operational Readiness Inspections (ORIs) to practice actual emergency situations and work cooperatively with local law enforcement to practice counter-terrorism tactics.

Crisis Response

Response activities occur during or immediately following a disaster and are intended to provide immediate emergency assistance. Response efforts also are designed to minimize secondary loss or damage and expedite recovery. Schools should typically follow the incident command system format used by emergency responders across the country.

The incident command system follows a similar four-stage system as outlined in this article for school bus safety. The system has an organization chart, a definition of “action levels” and how they are implemented, an outline of the expected sequence of actions before, during and after the emergency, and directions as to who will coordinate directly with emergency response teams.

In the incident command structure, every district’s transportation department should have an evacuation plan and map for every building in the district. The map should show the primary emergency loading and unloading area as well as alternative loading areas if the primary is compromised.

Crisis Recovery

Recovery involves short-term and long-term actions needed to recover. This includes assessing damage to coordinate potential state and federal disaster assistance. This phase also considers the human component of an event which may require crisis-counseling.

Schools manage small scale crisis counseling on a continuous basis. Large scale events may require significant outside resources. Planning for large scale events will expedite the process should it occur and can speed the healing process over the long term.

Dan Roberts is the Director of Professional Services at Transfinder Corporation. As a former executive director for long range planning and business systems for Round Rock Independent School District in Texas, Roberts is recognized for his pioneering efforts in developing computerized routing systems for school districts. For more information, visit
Comments & Ratings

  6/18/2012 9:48:19 PM

New Comment 
Actually that's a great idea. There is always a need for dcraaye and either there isn't enough or they are too expensive. You would just have to figure out the times that they get out, get licensed and set up space in your home for them specifically. I think with a license your state will help you more. I know in California and their expensive fees. My boyfriends daughter wants to do that eventually (she's a nanny now) and it's her back up if she is ever out of work and can't find a job. We have an extra room and I have thought about it myself, but they would probably drive my man crazy. Let me know how it works out!