By SHERRY DIGMON
I climbed the school bus steps, which seemed a little steeper than they did back in the day. I was looking for something.
I looked first just in front of me – at the driver’s seat and under it. I didn’t know what I was looking for, just something out of the ordinary.
Then I went down the aisle and looked to my right and left in every row of seats. Everything looked fine until I got to the very back of the bus, and there was a backpack on the floor. Billy Mills, Atmore bus shop foreman, was standing at the door of the bus, and I alerted him to the backpack.
If I had been a bus driver, I would have passed my test that day.
The exercise was part of Homeland Security that extends even to local school buses.
On that day in February, late in the afternoon, Timothy Dees was working at the Atmore bus shop. Dees is a Transportation Security Inspector working within the Transportation Security Administration, an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He works out of the Mobile office. His territory is all of Alabama and Jackson, Mississippi south.
Dees was working with Mills and Forrest Jones, Transportation Supervisor with the Escambia County School System. During this exercise, potential threats were placed on multiple buses after the bus drivers had left for the day.
First thing in the morning and last thing in the afternoon, drivers are required to check the bus seats and floor for any items that may not belong there – items that could be have been placed there by someone with ill intent – even though the buses are locked overnight.
Dees was quick to say this exercise is not a trap to catch bus drivers not doing their job. It’s not a gotcha. It’s a way to raise awareness and increase security posture – plain and simple.
Dees placed items on multiple buses. Wherever he’s doing this exercise, it’s always multiple buses. In large metropolitan areas, he may revisit the shop two or three times a year – but it’s always multiple buses each time.
After this exercise at the Atmore bus shop, all of the bus drivers discovered the out-of-place items before their morning runs.
That’s the point, Dees said. “Ifyou see something, say something – report it.”
You might not think world events affect the local school bus shop, but Dees said the U.S. Department of Homeland Security looks at events worldwide – sadly, they could affect us all, even our kids.
The following statement was issued by Dees: Since 2019, the Escambia County School System and the TSA have worked in partnership to strengthen the pre-trip inspections procedures for school bus drivers. This has been accomplished with the introduction of the TSA’s Security Enhancement Through Assessment (SETA) program. TSA’s SETA program is a nationwide, no-cost, collaborative, voluntary program that is designed to evaluate and improve a surface transportation stakeholder’s vehicle inspection procedures.
The Escambia County School System performed exceptionally during a recent assessment. This is attributed to a strong working relationship with Mr. Forrest Dale Jones, Transportation and Safety Supervisor. Mr. Jones’s professionalism, attention to detail, and commitment to the safety and security of the Escambia County School students, bus drivers, and the Escambia County community are without question.
Additionally, the bus drivers are to be commended for their thoroughness and attention details in performing their safety and security pre-trip inspections. It is evidence that each driver has a passion for protecting the students.
The TSA would like to recognize the Escambia County School System for their outstanding performance and efforts. It is my sincere hope to continue our collaborative relationship to help provide a safe environment for the Escambia County Schools System.
Thanks to Sari Koshetz with TSA for collaboration on this article.