Switzerland Bus Crash: Coping with Mass Casualty Events

Many American public schools still do not have written mental health recovery plans that address what needs to be done if a mass casualty event occurs. The horrific bus crash that killed 28 people in Switzerland is a tragic reminder that administrators need to prepare for such scenarios.

News sources are reporting a deadly mass casualty school field trip crash where 22 students and six adults died, and 14 more students have been hospitalized with another 14 students were injured. The students were returning from a ski trip when the crash occurred. Police have three theories as to the cause of the crash, including statements from survivors that the driver may have been helping a teacher change a disk in a DVD player moments before the crash.

This horrific incident illustrates the challenges that mass casualty events can pose. In this instance, recovery efforts will be made more difficult because the children on the bus were Dutch and Belgian and the crash occurred in Switzerland.

Public safety officials report that many emergency responders “were in a state of shock” due to the carnage, the extensive damage to the bus, the age of the victims and from hearing the screams of the frightened children who were trapped on the bus. Officials stated that the last casualty was removed from the wreckage about two hours after the first public safety personnel arrived on the scene. The extensive damage to the bus trapped many students. The bus was equipped with seat belts but it is not clear yet how many students were wearing seat belts at the time of the crash.

In a phone interview today, Dr. Sonayia Shepherd, an expert in school mental health recovery planning for mass casualty events stated “most American public school districts still do not have a written mental health recovery plan that specifically addresses what needs to be done if a mass casualty event occurs.” 

Dr. Shepherd, who has extensive international mass casualty event experience and who helped develop a mass casualty event training video for the Pennsylvania Department of Education through the Center for Safe Schools, has evaluated written mental health recovery plans for many districts across the nation. Shepherd suggests that a written plan based on the mental health recovery model adopted by schools contain specific action steps to help address mass casualty events more effectively due to the overwhelming nature of these events.

Though rare, there have been school bus crashes in the United States with similar numbers of fatalities and these tragic incidents have also had a dramatic impact on survivors of the victims, as will obviously be the case in this terrible loss of human life.

To read about the bus crash, click here.

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About the Author


Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a global non profit campus safety center. During his 30 year campus safety career, Michael has served as a university police officer, corporal, sergeant and lieutenant. He served as a school system police chief for ten years before being appointed the lead expert for the nation's largest state government K-20 school safety center. The author of 25 books on school safety, his work has taken him to Central America, Mexico, Canada, Europe, Asia, South Africa and the Middle East. Michael welcomes comments, questions or requests for clarification at [email protected]. Note: The views expressed by guest bloggers and contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

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