April 20th, 2017 is Minnesota Statewide Tornado Drill Day. The chances of a bus driver encountering a tornado while on their route is slim, however, drivers should know what to do and what to be aware of. Minnesota’s Severe Storms Awareness Week, will be a good time to review tornado safety plans with school bus drivers and students that ride the bus.
Tornadoes develop in areas where a severe thunderstorm watch or warning is in effect. A Tornado Watch is when the weather conditions in the atmosphere can result in the possibility of developing a tornado. A Tornado Warning means a tornado has been sighted or has been indicated by weather radar. Warnings are issued for counties or communities that are in the path of the tornado’s location, direction and speed.
If a tornado warning is issued in the area, drivers should be aware of the signs of an approaching tornado or storm. Dark, often grey/green skies, wall cloud, large hail and or a loud roar some often relate it to the sound of a freight train. If any of these conditions exist while driving, drivers should take immediate action and seek shelter or stop and pull over.
In the event a tornado is moving toward the area the bus is driving, do not continue in that direction. Instead, the driver should either stop if the storm is close, or retreat at a right angle away from the storms path. NEVER attempt to outrun a tornado that is bearing down on the vehicle. If there is a likelihood the tornado will hit the vehicle, and there is not escape route available, the driver should:
- Alert dispatch if time permits, that they will be Evacuating the bus.
- Take the students to the nearest ditch. Get as far away from the bus as possible. Take cover on the storm side of the bus, so that the bus will not roll onto the children. Avoid areas with trees.
- Instruct the students to lie flat on their stomachs and cover their heads with their hands.
As with all bus evacuations, do not allow students to take their personal belongings with them other than their coats and jackets. These items can be used to cover their heads and bodies from flying debris. If the driver is going to take anything, take the first aid kit. Do not take the children to an underpass. It is not known how much shelter an underpass can provide from flying debris in a violent tornado. Most deaths and injuries in a tornado are caused by flying debris.
If the bus driver spots a funnel and there is no time to evacuate the bus, have the students remain in their seats and lie down below the window covering their heads with their hands. They should shut the bus off and get down away from the door. At anytime there is a house or building nearby that offers shelter and time permits to reach it, use it. Move to the lowest level of the structure away from windows and doors. If there is no basement, use a closet, bathroom or center hallway on the lowest level. Use cushions, blankets, or mattresses to cover the students with. These items will help protect everyone from flying debris.
Once the bus driver thinks the tornado has passed, they should look and listen for further funnel clouds before removing anyone from shelter. Sometimes there can be multiple tornados in one storm. It is absolutely imperative the driver stays calm and keeps the children calm. If the group had to take cover outside in a ditch, return the students to the bus for shelter against hail and rain that can come after a tornado. Attend to any injuries and notify dispatch as soon as possible of their location, any need for paramedics, and what the overall status is after any bus evacuation.
Having and reviewing a School Bus Tornado Safety Plan will prepare bus drivers in the steps necessary to keep the passengers and themselves safe during a tornado emergency. During the week of April 17th – 21st, 2017, the Department of Public Safety and the National Weather Service will be promoting severe weather safety and emergency preparedness information. This is the perfect time for families, communities, schools, and school bus companies, to review and talk about their emergency plans and how they can prepare for the upcoming severe weather season.