Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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April 6, 2007

SWAT team prepares bus drivers for danger

PRINCETON — School bus drivers deal with traffic, bad weather or misbehaving students almost every day, but Friday they had lessons designed to help them deal with situations that hopefully will only happen in their nightmares.

Mercer County’s school bus operators met at the Mercer County Technical Education Center for lessons from West Virginia State Police and the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department S.W.A.T. team. The half-day sessions were created to help drivers cope recognize and respond to dangerous signs exhibited by students and others.

“We’re basically giving the bus drivers a training course that’s for us and the bus drivers as well,” said sheriff’s department Detective R.M. Combs. “They can see what it would be like in a hostage situation or if they had a subject barricaded on a bus. We’re exposing them to this atmosphere so they will know what to expect and what they can do to help us.”

After each session, the bus operators would board either an older model school bus or one of the new buses the school system acquired this year. Then S.W.A.T. members would explain what they attended to do and demonstrate a boarding operation.

During a break between sessions, Sheriff’s Lt. A.D. Beasley said that bus operators were not being trained to handled crisis situations by themselves. The goal was to teach them how to react and keep the situation from escalating until officers could arrive.

“What I’m not trying to do is make those people hostage negotiators,” Beasley said. “We want to show them how to handle a situation until we arrive.”

The first step is to remain calm. In crisis situations, bus drivers and aides must realize that they are not in control, Beasley said. Even in the best situations, it can take negotiators hours to resolve a crisis without sending in S.W.A.T. officers. Officers knew of situations in other parts of the country that took up to eight hours to resolve.

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