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In-Service Safety Series
In-Service Safety Series
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VI. Emergency Situations

  1. We have talked about loading and unloading in normal situations
  2. We also need to talk about what to do in emergency situations
  3. In this section, we are going to talk about
    1. The kinds of emergencies to expect as a school bus driver of students with special needs
    2. What needs to be included in an emergency evacuation plan
    3. How to handle an emergency on the school bus
  4. What kinds of emergencies might you have on a school bus with students with special needs?
    1. With the vehicle
      • The school bus breaks down
      • The lift won't work
      • A crash
      • A fire on the bus
    2. With the driver
      • Driver illness
    3. With a student
      • Medical problem
      • An equipment problem
      • DNR orders
    4. Weather or external emergency
      • Not being able to stop or unload where you are supposed to
      • Something life threatening (fire, flood, tornado)
  5. For some of these problems you will have to evacuate the school bus; for others you won't have to evacuate
    1. In general, if the situation is not life-threatening, you probably don't have to evacuate
      1. For example, a medical problem with one of the students probably doesn't require evacuation of the whole school bus
      2. A broken lift doesn't require evacuation
    2. However, if the situation is life-threatening, you may have to evacuate
      1. If the threat is from something on the school bus, get off the school bus
      2. If the threat is from something outside the school bus, ask yourself
        1. Will the students be safer outside than on the school bus?
        2. Can I get them out fast enough?
    3. Review local evacuation policy
  6. Every school bus driver should have an evacuation plan for the school bus
    1. School bus drivers who have students with special needs need to think about how to evacuate those students
    2. Let's talk about what needs to be considered when preparing the evacuation plan
      1. The students' ability
        1. Which students can come off the school bus by themselves
        2. Which students can be removed from the bus without their wheelchair (or specialized seat or child safety seat)
        3. Which students must not be removed from their wheelchair (or specialized seat or child safety seat)
      2. Which students have essential equipment that also must be removed
      3. What equipment do you need for an evacuation
        1. At a minimum you need a belt cutter or rescue knife and a fire blanket
        2. Belt cutter
          1. The belt cutter has a razor-sharp cutting edge safely built in to a plastic handle. It looks similar to a letter opener.
          2. It can cut seat belts and tie-down straps
          3. The belt is fit into the slot and the blade cuts with one motion
          4. Store the belt cutter in a location that is easily accessible to the bus driver and monitor but that the students can't reach
        3. Fire blanket
          1. To smother fires
          2. For hypothermia
          3. For the emergency evacuation of fragile or heavy students
      4. What personnel will be available to help you
        1. In addition, which students can help others get off the school bus
      5. Where are emergency services along your route
        1. Fire stations
        2. Hospitals
        3. Police
        4. Clinics
    3. The written evacuation plan should include
      1. A diagram of the seating pattern that identifies where each student sits
      2. Information on how to evacuate each student
      3. The location of emergency evacuation equipment and exits
    4. Review local policy and procedures on emergency evacuation plans
  7. There are some general rules for how to handle an emergency
    1. Stay calm
      1. Students may panic and become uncontrollable if they sense fear and anxiety
    2. Stop as soon as possible in a safe place
      1. Off the traveled roadway, preferably in a parking lot or driveway
    3. Secure the vehicle
      1. Put the transmission in PARK
      2. Set the emergency brake
      3. Turn off the ignition
    4. Take the keys
    5. Contact dispatch
      1. Report the emergency
      2. Ask for help (e.g., medical assistance, another vehicle)
    6. If appropriate, use warning devices to alert other motorists you are stopped
    7. If you decide to evacuate
      1. Explain what you are doing using simple, concise directions
        1. To the students
        2. To outside help if you need to enlist it
      2. Use all exits if possible
      3. Once students are off the school bus, move them to a safe place away from the school bus
    8. Review local emergency procedures
  8. There are several techniques you may need to know to get students with special needs out of the school bus in an emergency
    1. These techniques are
      1. The one-person lift
      2. The 2-person lift
      3. The blanket drag
    2. General lifting guidelines
      1. Never lift anyone more than half your weight
        1. Ask for help if you are unsure
      2. Test your lifting ability with a small movement that can be stopped
        1. If the student weighs too much, use another method
      3. Process
        1. Clear the path to the exit
        2. Tell the student exactly what you are going to do before you do it
        3. If necessary, cut the seat belt and other positioning straps
        4. Stand balanced with your feet shoulder width apart
          1. Face the student
          2. Face in the direction you want to go, if possible
        5. Get a good grip on the student or the student's clothing; use your palms, not just your fingers
        6. Squat down but keep your heels off the floor
        7. Get as close to the student as you can
        8. Lift gradually (without jerking) using your leg, abdominal, and buttock muscles
        9. Keep the student as close to you as possible
        10. Keep your chin tucked in so as to keep a relatively straight back and neck line
        11. Once you're standing, change directions by pointing your feet in the direction you want to go and turning your whole body
        12. Avoid twisting at your waist while carrying a student
        13. Take small steps, keeping the student close to your body
        14. With students with poor muscle control
          1. Curl the student as much as possible to keep the student's arms and legs from flopping
          2. Support the student's head and neck
    3. The one-person lift
      1. Follow general lifting guidelines
      2. Pass the student's near arm over your shoulder
      3. Place one of your arms behind the student's shoulders with your hand under the student's other arm
      4. Place your other arm under the student's knees
      5. Squat down with feet shoulder width apart
      6. Lift the student with the load equally divided between both arms, holding the student close to you
    4. The 2-person lift
      1. Follow general lifting guidelines
      2. Move the student in a wheelchair as close to the exit as possible
      3. Slide the student on a seat next to the aisle
      4. The taller person stands behind the student and the other person stands in front of the student and off to the side
      5. If the student is in a wheelchair, the person in front should remove the armrests and fold up the footrests
      6. The person in back reaches under the student's arms and
        1. Either grasps right hand to student's right wrist and left hand to student's left wrist
        2. Or clasps hands across the student's chest
      7. The person in front lifts the lower extremities under the thighs and hips
      8. Squat down and lift together on a count of three
      9. Move to the designated area and lower the student on the count of three
    5. Blanket drag
      1. Using a blanket reduces stress on the student's body and the chance of injury
      2. The blanket drag is also a way to move heavier students or fragile students who might be hurt by lifting
        1. However, the blanket drag is not a good choice for students who are medically fragile
      3. Process
        1. Follow general lifting guidelines
        2. Fold a blanket in half and place in on the floor next to the student
        3. Lower the student's legs onto the blanket first, then the head
          1. Place the student with his head toward the exit
        4. Wrap the blanket around the student to prevent arms and legs from being caught on obstacles
        5. Grasp the blanket near the student's head and drag the student to the exit
  9. Remember also that the lift can be operated manually
    1. Refer to the manufacturer's instructions for the correct procedure for your lift
  10. Finally, all of these emergency precautions have to be practiced
    1. It is not enough for you, the school bus driver, to know what you will do in an emergency
    2. The students must know too
    3. Conduct regular evacuation drills
      1. Conduct the same number that you would with non-disabled students
      2. Consider the special circumstances of the students on your bus
        1. Some may be physically unable to fully participate in the drills but they should always be walked through the drill
          1. Consult the IEP team about a student's ability to participate
        2. It may make sense to do the drill in the classroom to avoid unnecessary risks initially but it should also be practiced on the bus
        3. Or do the drill with some of the students and have other students watch to see what happens
    4. Review local policy and procedures on evacuation drills

VI.C - Display Slide #22

VI.E.2 - Distribute Handout #8,
Emergency Situations

VI.F.2.c.2.iii - Review the correct
use of the belt cutter


VI. After presenting this section, you may want to have participants practice:

  • The one-person lift
  • The 2-person lift
  • The blanket drag.

VI.B. REMINDER: This is not a review of general evacuation procedures. This section reviews emergency situations with students with special needs.

VI.E.2. Distribute Handout #8, Emergency Situations. Review it with the participants.

VI.H. It would be good to have some assistance in teaching this section. Before class, arrange for 2 other people to demonstrate these techniques. You might also want to arrange for a dummy or a weight representing a child to be lifted. As you go through the general lifting guidelines as well as the one-person lift, the 2-person lift, and the blanket drag, the other person or people could demonstrate what you are describing.

VI.H. There are several excellent state manuals that provide more detail on techniques for evacuating students with special needs from a school bus. Contact your State Director of Pupil Transportation. To obtain the name of your State Director call 1-800-585-0340 or visit

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