School Bus Storm Safety

Monday, March 31st 2008, 7:55 pm
By: News On 6

A school bus wound up in the wrong place at the wrong time this morning. It's not the first time it's happened. News On 6's Steve Berg reports it was spring of 2004 when a Broken Arrow bus was in the same predicament.

The problem is that weather is so unpredictable. One minute, it's sunny. The next, it's stormy.

Broken Arrow spokesman Keith Isbell remembers what happened on April 26, 2004.

"That was probably the worst possible time. The bus had just gotten into its route, far away from school. It was in one of the rural areas of our community, far away from everything, and there's really no place for that bus to go," said Keith Isbell with Broken Arrow Public Schools.

The bus drove right into an area where a small tornado had touched down. Unlike winter weather, schools typically don't shut down when severe weather is in the forecast. And school bus drivers can get caught off guard.

"It was a sunny day, and the storm kind of blew in all at once, and it caught the driver in that particular case unaware. We think, we've got to find a better way to communicate that there's a storm approaching," said Isbell.

And they did. The 2-way radios in school buses now connect to the National Weather Service radio in the bus dispatcher's office.

"No matter what happens, no matter who's talking on the radio, if a thunderstorm warning, or worse, a tornado warning is broadcast on the weather radio, it will be heard inside the bus," said Isbell.

The state department of education has general guidelines for buses in severe weather, but no laws per se.

"Get to a building if you can, preferably a school building; get the kids off. But, if you don't have enough time to do that, then find a ditch, pull over, get the kids out into the ditch, have them in the protected position, and wait out the storm until you get an all clear," said Isbell.

Schools occasionally stop their buses for weather. Pawnee did because of safety concerns. Coweta did too, although it had to do with flooding not a tornado.

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