schools are well prepared for a variety of difficult situations.” Hileman emphasized that it is important to have an

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Student Ridership

effective crisis communications plan when dealing with the news media. “Transparent communica- tions are critical during a crisis, especially for school districts and transportation providers,” said Hile- man, who personally conducts crisis media training workshops at locations across the U.S. “Talking to reporters needs to not be intimidating. Spokesper- sons should participate in regular media training to hone their skills. To get ready to conduct interviews, they should prepare three to five key messages and anticipate the questions they will be asked, practicing their answers beforehand.” Hileman said a common error school districts

make in crisis response planning is the disconnect between the central administration and individual schools. “We have observed an inconsistency in the quality of plans at the individual school level when they are left to prepare a plan without strong guid- ance from the district’s administration,” Hileman said. “We believe that school administrators need strong district level support and detailed templates in order to create crisis communication plans.”

Safety Drills Most experts agreed with the national school bus

procedures manual recommendations that resourc- es permitting, school districts practice their crisis response plans to make sure they work. For some districts, this is a difficult task because of the logistics involved in coordinating with emergency respond- ers, medical facilities and other agencies. Evers said drills must be realistic to be effective.

“You have to practice like you’re in response mode,” Evers said. “It makes it real, and you can identify mis- steps and make adjustments before it is real. We have an emergency checklist for each of our 52 facilities and an umbrella plan for the district that is reviewed annually. It is all integrated. Transportation is part of the overall response. But if it is a transportation crisis, we already have a plan in place for that.” Mehaffy said getting the community involved takes

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a lot of coordination, but that’s covered in the plan as well. “Anything that involves a bus comes through us,” Mehaffy said. “Each student must go through evacuation drills twice a year, regardless if they ride the bus regularly or not at all because they might find themselves on a bus during a field trip.”

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