School Bus Emergency Preparedness: How’s Your Department’s ‘C3’?

Published: May 10, 2012

Back when I served as a commander in the U.S. Air Force, “C3” was a term that was used a lot, especially when involved in special ops missions. Unlike C4, C3 is not a form of plastic explosive, but military jargon referring to “Command, Control and Communication.” During those interesting times when the battle staff was assembled in our locked, guarded and windowless room, we relied heavily on C3 as we made decisions under duress, some of which involved life-or-death emergencies occurring on the other side of the world that depended heavily on having a robust C3 system in place.

While we may never be involved with anything that dramatic as school transportation professionals, we could be called upon to assist local municipalities, or even deal with a school-related emergency for which we as a component and extension of the school system should be prepared to react quickly.

In such times, a well-developed C3 plan could mitigate potential injury and suffering, or even save lives, by streamlining what we do and how we do it in terms of developing an organized, speedy response. Enter ICS: a nationally recognized “Incident Command System.”

The role of the Incident Command System
According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the ICS “is a standardized, on-scene, all-hazards incident management approach that:

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  • allows for the integration of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures and communications operating within a common organizational structure;
  • enables a coordinated response among various jurisdictions and functional agencies, both public and private; and
  • establishes common processes for planning and managing resources.”

The neat thing about ICS is that it is flexible by design, and it can be deployed on any kind of incident, from simple to complex, from a school bus crash with minor injuries to a plane crash where potentially dozens of survivors might need immediate transportation away from an accident scene.  

Communication is essential to effective emergency response
Since the use of an ICS is expanding rapidly across the country — at all levels of government and the private sector, including education — it helps immensely if all the players in a response scenario use the same language relative to a coordinated emergency response.

The emergency response management cycle is made up of five basic parts: prevention, mitigation, preparedness, recovery and response, though not all of these may be used with every incident — it depends on the needs of the moment. The glue that holds all this together is communication. Having a solid plan in place ahead of time can save you and your department a lot of grief when the bell goes off.

One of the best ways to ensure your department’s viability in the response cycle is to befriend your school’s emergency response personnel, many of whom have already established key communication protocols and developed relationships with your community’s emergency first responders.

Police, fire, EMS and other emergency service providers often meet regularly to discuss potential response scenarios, as well as to use their time to creatively network with others and freshen up mutual aid agreements for when they are needed. You should be a part of those meetings — emergency managers need to know your name and what you have to offer the community in the event of an emergency.

Working with first responders provides real-world training  
According to Michael Coleman, vice president of business development at QDS Communications, public safety response to schools is on the rise across the country. For one of the latest years for which hard data were available, 2007, the U.S. Department of Education noted 684,100 incidents of violent crime occurring at school, while in 2003, there were 36,000 reported cases of chemical exposure for which separate masses of students had to be evacuated from the scene of the emergency. For those incidents, mass transportation was and continues to be a vital component of any school or community’s emergency response plan.

The best part about developing this kind of operability with each other is that it is generally revenue neutral; that’s important as we continue to struggle through the fog and friction of our states’ austere budgetary environments.

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Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series
Strategy & Planning Series