The recent storms in Norman, Oklahoma revealed some holes in the Norman School District emergency preparedness policies. On April 13, 2012, a tornado touched down near a local middle school shortly after students were dismissed for the day. Thankfully, no one was injured, but communication during and after the event was very stressful and unorganized. Joe Siano, Norman Public Schools Superintendent, has decided to include radios equipped with GPS tracking technology in all the district’s school buses.
When the tornado touched down, some 68 school buses were taking students home from school. No damage to the buses or students was incurred during the storm, but there was a lot of confusion. “We intermittently lost connection with out sites and the buses’ radio connection was both erratic and confused, with lots of different people on at once, all trying to report their respective situations,” explained Siano. GPS tracking devices will save dispatchers and bus drivers the hassle of calling in their location. “This way, we’ll know exactly where each bus is without their having to report it, and we’ll be able to pinpoint which buses are nearest the storm or event.”
Prior to the recent storms, the standard practice was for the buses to return to the closest school. However, in some cases, this policy could lead buses directly into danger. Another advantage of using GPS tracking technology in the radio communication of these bus drivers, is that the dispatchers can give specific directions to each bus, based on their current location. “All of our pieces are there, and our staff worked very hard and very well to deal with as many aspects of the situation as could be controlled, but we learned a lot of lessons in the communication piece,” said Siano. “We’ve addressed the major concerns with communication and will continue to address more as time goes on.”