Whether an Airline or a School Bus Company – Response is the Same

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First, some background:

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On May 17th of this year, there was a horrific New Jersey School Bus Wreck in Mt. Olive, NJ. The bus driver, Hudy Muldrow, employed by the Paramus School District, missed his exit while transporting students on a field trip.

The investigation into the crash has found that there were  three school buses on a field trip to Waterloo Village, a restored 19th-century town, and all are believed to have missed the exit. The three buses apparently drove in an effort to correct their routes. One bus detached from the other two and arrived at Waterloo Village, according to the Prosecutor’s Office.

After that, it is believed that Muldrow’s bus separated from the other bus, which also eventually arrived safely at the field trip destination. Soon after, Muldrow is alleged to have turned his bus to the left, apparently to try to access the official-use-only access point located between the eastbound and westbound lanes of Route 80.

He then proceeded to make an illegal U-Turn while transporting 44 passengers. The bus was struck by a dump truck driving in the center lane of I-80. Two were killed (51 year-old teacher) and a 10-year-old student from East Brook Middle School.

Driver: Hudy Muldrow, 77, charged with two counts of death by auto. On May 30th, a judge released Muldrow from jail until his trial. He previously received 8 speeding tickets and his license suspended 14 times in 43 years (most due to parking tickets and administrative problems). He had a valid commercial drivers license and school bus endorsement at the time of the crash.

  • Muldrow’s license was suspended 14 times between 1975 and 2017. Six of the suspensions were due to parking violations. Another seven were for administrative or paperwork reasons. One suspension, in 1977, was for driving while his license was suspended.
  • His last license suspension was in 2017 for failing to pay parking tickets. But he got his license back and was employed by the Paramus school district with a valid commercial drivers license for the current school year.
  • He also has 16 driving violations on his record, including eight violations for speeding between 1975 and 2001. He was cited for an improper lane change in 2010. The driving record does not indicate if he was driving a school bus or a personal vehicle at the time.
  • Muldrow was involved in five previous crashes, however the driving record does not indicate if Muldrow was the driver or passenger in the accidents. It also does not say who was at fault.

Paramus School Response:

Paramus Schools Superintendent Dr. Michele Robinson said in a statement that she was “shocked” and “angry” to learn of Muldrow’s driving record. “Nothing that was provided to the district by the state reflected that the driver had any moving violations,” she said. “In fact, all we were told is that he was a driver in good standing and eligible to operate a school bus.” – School Transportation News

School Bus Crash Statistics (NHTSA – National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration)

  • 4-6 school-age children die each year on school transportation vehicles (less than 1% of all traffic fatalities nation-wide)
  • Students are about 70 times more likely to get to school safely when taking a school bus instead of traveling by car
  • From 2007-2016, there were 320,874 fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes. Of those crashes, 1,147 (0.4%) were classified as school-transportation-related. (PDF attached)
  • From 2007-2016, 1,282 people have been killed in school-transportation-related crashes – an average of 128 per year.
  • From 2007-2016, 98 school-age pedestrians (18 and younger) have died in school-transportation-related crashes.
    • 60% struck by school buses
    • 2% by vehicles functioning as school buses
    • 38% by other vehicles (passenger cars, vans, large trucks, motorcycles) involved in the crashes

Now we need to take those 44 individuals off of the bus, and put them on an airplane; we have very specific protocol in place for responding to mass casualty events in the air, less-so with ground vehicles. To better respond in the future, what would an properly trained airline team do?

School Bus Fleet Magazine details immediate actions that may occur by emergency personnel:

Following a school bus crash, fire and Emergency Medical Service (EMS) personnel will arrive on scene and immediately begin to size up the situation. Hazardous conditions — including fire, spilled fuel, fallen electrical lines and vehicular traffic — will need to be dealt with before anyone in the emergency response team approaches the school bus.

The influx of bystanders, parents being contacted via cell phone and the media represent other challenges that rescue personnel face. All of these people want to help and are concerned about the students’ safety, but they can easily disrupt rescue efforts and put themselves in danger. Law enforcement officers will play a key role in managing the increased vehicular traffic and providing security at the scene.

Account for and Assist Passengers and Employees – Initiate your Family Assistance Plan

  • Accounting for all passengers and employees following a crisis event is critical.
  • If you have a family assistance support plan now is the time to assess the need and implement it. Be prepared to do the following:
  • Set up a crisis call center with a specific number for people to call if they think they know someone has been directly affected.
  • Activate your family assistance team members or critical incident response teams to work directly with those affected and their families.
  • Notify your Employee Assistance Program and outside professional counselors and work to create strategies and support as needed.
  • If the need is great, establish a Family Assistance Center where you can better protect those affected and meet their needs.
  • Assess the need for emergency medical services for passengers, their families, employees, visitors or others as appropriate.
  • Immediate response by persons at the scene saved lives. If your company does not have a formal medical program, you may want to investigate ways to provide medical and first-aid services. Where are first-aid resources stored on the vehicle?  Would attempting to locate them create greater danger?
  • Provide your employees with a written emergency medical procedure to minimize confusion during an emergency.
  • If an infirmary, clinic, or hospital is not close to the crisis event, ensure that uninjured, onsite chaperones, monitors, or other adults traveling have adequate training in first aid. Treatment of a serious injury should begin within 3 to 4 minutes of an accident.

Respond with compassion

  • Validate and acknowledge what injured and families are experiencing through the use of compassionate crisis communication techniques.
  • Show practical support. Anticipate, identify and provide for any practical needs injured and their families may have. During the employee and passenger check-in phase, Crisis Response Team Members should be made aware of any urgent needs. Then, assign and empower a Family Services Team to those who may have been seriously impacted (e.g. injured; lost a loved one; was an eye-witness to the tragedy; encountered significant damage to personal property).

Educate and communicate

  • Provide an Information Line for families, friends, employees and others.
  • Screen media messages and use message maps to keep communication clear and consistent. You may not comment on events that are under investigation or being handled by authorities such as the NTSB. Train employees to refrain from commenting on social media.
  • Provide informational material. Educate your passengers, families, employees and others involved on common physical and psychological responses to crisis. Your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) can provide informational brochures.
  • As appropriate, offer face-to-face support by a counselor that has training and experience in dealing with trauma.
  • Offer group debriefings. When facilitated by a skilled professional and conducted with homogeneous groups, these have proven to help validate feelings, reduce feelings of isolation and aid in recovery.
  • Personally (not via text) communicate to those involved often (at least daily) even when you don’t have “new” information, especially during the height of a crisis. Letting them know next steps is helpful during a confusing time.

For those involved but uninjured:

  • As soon as possible, contact family and let them know your status and where you will be transported. Connecting with a support system during a crisis can help reduce anxiety.
  • Take into consideration any instructions on reunification, traffic routes and rerouting. Having a loved-one try to rush to the scene creates more confusion and chaos.
  • Wait to post updates or status using social media. What is posted when an individual is in shock may not be in their best interest, and in some situations, may put the individual and others at risk.
  • Do not contact or take requests from media outlets while on scene.
  • Do document and save images or video taken before or after the event that may contain information helpful to authorities.

Overall

Train and Drill: on- and off-scene staff, dispatchers and others must know what to do and how to communicate. A disaster preparedness and recovery plan must include employee training for all employees. It should include:

  • Information about threats, hazards, and protective actions
  • Notification, warning and communications procedures
  • Means for locating family members and reunification
  • Reunification of people and property
  • Emergency response procedures
  • Evacuation, shelter, and accountability procedures
  • Location and use of common emergency equipment
  • Emergency shutdown procedures

Build emergency preparedness into the culture of your organization. Please let us know how we can help.

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