School bus safety may not be the first thing parents think about when sending their children off to school, but it's an important issue to Hall County law enforcement agencies.
"With school starting back this week, there's a number of buses on the roadways, as well as other vehicles on the roadways, so therefore the percentage for an accident goes up," said Kevin Holbrook, public information officer for the Gainesville Police Department.
Members from the Gainesville Police Department, Forsyth County Fire Department, Habersham County Fire Department and Northeast Georgia Medical Center instructed several law enforcement agencies on how to evacuate a school bus.
Once agencies complete the course, which was held at the old Lanier Park Hospital, they obtain their Child Passenger Safety Certification, which must be renewed every two years.
"We've trained hundreds of officers here in Hall County, as well as North Georgia," said Holbrook, who was an instructor. "We've trained all of the (Gainesville State Patrol) Troop B, and this is a part of their recertification efforts."
The daylong course instructed officers and firefighters on how to remove children from a bus if it were to turn over, how to remove special needs children from a bus and when it is safe to remove children from a bus.
"That's the first question that you have to answer yourself," Holbrook said. "‘Is this a safe location for me to get the children off the bus? Are there exigent circumstances that we need to get the children off the bus right away? That plays a big factor and role in it."
Emergency personnel must be able to act quickly in these situations, which is why the certification is necessary, said Kim Martin, Safe Kids coordinator for Northeast Georgia Medical Center and an instructor for the course.
"It just gives them an opportunity to think through this in a training atmosphere before the actual real, live situation happens," she said.
A large focus of the course was on the evacuation process of a school bus for special needs children.
Unlike traditional school buses, those intended for special needs children are equipped with harnesses to keep children safe in their seats.
"There's a lot of things that go along with these special needs buses," Holbrook said. "These children are actually strapped down in their seats. They wear five-point harnesses, whether they're in a wheelchair, they're actually restrained inside the bus."
In the event of an emergency involving a bus for special needs children, emergency personnel would have to remove the children from the harnesses, as well as deal with other obstacles such as a student with an oxygen tank.
"A lot of times those are not your typical children," Martin said. "It can be minor, very mild to severe disabilities, especially those in wheelchairs that might be on oxygen, so of course you want to get oxygen off the bus first, especially if the bus is on fire" she said.
Agencies that participated in the certification included the Hall County Sheriff's Office, Georgia State Patrol, Clayton County Police Department and the Motor Carrier Compliance Division for the state of Georgia. Holbrook said the exercise helps agencies build relationships with each other.
"If by chance there were to be a mass-casualty disaster or anything like that, you're going to have numerous agencies come in," Holbrook said. "So it's important for us to get with those other agencies so that we're all training together in the same ways in case there are multiple agencies on the same scene."
Holbrook said even though the police department has not had to deal with any serious bus accidents, it's always important to be prepared in case the situation does arise.
"We've been very fortunate here in Gainesville and Hall County that we have not had any type of a large bus crash, but it's that type of scenario that we train for," Holbrook said. "We hope we never have to use it, but we are trained on it, and we can handle any circumstances or any issues that could come our way."