Mock bus crash prepares school, emergency responders for worst-case scenario

MECHANICSBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Are school districts, police and firefighters ready if something happens to your kids on the school bus? One community was put to the test.

The Cumberland Valley School District – along with the Silver Spring Township Police Department, Hampden Township Police Department, New Kingston Fire Department and Cumberland County Emergency Management – conducted a “mock bus crash” at the high school. They learned what procedures worked as well as what needed work.

“Attention all stations,” rang a voice on all administrators’ radio transmitters. “We have a reported bus accident at the Carlisle Pike and Hemp Roads. Reported injuries. Students on a school bus.”

Sirens sounded and district officials sprang into action.

“We do have the driver information,” they hear from the radio. “It was a female driver.”

It’s hard to believe each player in the scene is an actor, reacting to a three-vehicle crash with 14 elementary school students on board.

“To discover the things we needed to do better,” CV superintendent Dr. Fred Withum said.

Throughout the exercise, they learn the crash resulted in 12 students injured and two students dead.

“We started seeing a lot of the bus and van accidents across the nation,” said Terry Draper, the district’s safety and transportation director, who organized this activity. “So, one of the things we start to look at is preparedness.”

Just last month, 14 Lancaster Mennonite students were injured in a school bus crash. Superintendent Pam Tieszen told us the school learned a lot from the tragedy, mainly about communication. She says they were overwhelmed with calls and struggled to keep up with disseminating information.

Referencing similar struggles, Withum said, “I think we identified people in the communications loop that needed additional radios.”

Gretchen Horning works in human resources at Cumberland Valley and played the role of a mother whose child was killed in the mock crash.

“I think they handled it very well,” Horning said. “I was notified and someone stayed with me at all times.”

District officials say that’s why they did this drill: to make sure parents are confident in the district’s abilities to handle difficult situations.

“We don’t rest on our laurels,” Draper said. “We prepare for the worst case scenario so we’re prepared when it happens.”

Cumberland Valley officials will be discussing what went right and what went wrong during the drill. Over the next few days, they will update their emergency plan based on those findings.

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