Saturday, July 16, 2005

School Buses: A Weapons Delivery System For Terrorists?

Remember when the only purpose of the yellow school bus was the safe transportation of students? Well, things have changed. In the post 9/11 world, school personnel in Texas are being trained to consider buses as a weapons delivery system for terrorists:

The knapsack left on the yellow school bus Carol Bolden drives might be the sign of a bomb. So might the perfume bottle lying under a seat in the back, the broken flap on her fuel tank or even a spare rag left in the battery box.

Ms. Bolden, an 18-year veteran driver for the Houston Independent School District, never used to think about such things, but now she's been trained to.

She's among more than 2,000 drivers and managers across Texas who have gone through a new terrorism training effort. Officials call it a pre-emptive move to protect one of the most vulnerable of potential targets: school buses.

"They're great targets and probably very accessible," said Aaron Hobbs, a bus terminal manager for the HISD and president of the nonprofit Texas Association for Pupil Transportation.

Half of those trained through the program so far are in Houston. But the effort is coming to Dallas County this fall. Over the next two years, the program, called School Bus Watch, will include 44,000 Texas school bus drivers, said Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation.

The plan is to train more than 600,000 drivers across the country. Mr. Martin said he expects the program, the first attempt to standardize a national curriculum for school bus anti-terrorism training, to be announced today. Until now, training efforts have varied by district.

School officials started the training in earnest in October after terrorists took over a school in Beslan, Russia, and killed more than 300 people.

All 1,000 of Houston's bus drivers have been trained. Dallas County Schools, which runs buses for DISD and other local districts, will start training its 1,400 drivers in September, said Ray Lanoux, director of risk management for the agency. For Mora Elizondo, a six-year school bus driver and supervisor for McAllen ISD, the bomb that blew apart a double-decker bus in Central London earlier this week was a scary reminder.

"With the size of the bus and the fuel, it fits," Ms. Elizondo said. "I think there should be more training on this. ... It's better safe than sorry."

Charley Kennington, administrator of school bus transportation for the Texas Department of Public Safety, agrees. His goal is to make anti-terrorism and awareness training part of the state school bus driver certification program. Drivers must renew their certification every year.

"With some of the things that we've seen going on in other countries, I think it pays for us to start doing this ahead of time," he said.

The program has been kept deliberately low-key to prevent, as the article later states, because officials didn't want to "increase paranoia" among the state's residents.

It's sad to see that even the yellow school bus, that unchanging icon of more innocent times, is now being considered as just one more potential tool for terrorists to use in their cowardly attacks upon our country's people.
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