It was an almost unimaginable situation earlier this year when, in Alabama, a man boarded a school bus, killed the driver and abducted a child.
The man then held the victim hostage in an underground bunker for days until FBI agents rescued the child.
It’s for situations like that the Hall County SWAT team practiced on Tuesday.
“It’s if we have some kind of incident on a bus, what might be some of our best ways to approach it and try to resolve the problem,” explained Capt. Joe Carter, SWAT commander. “You could have a person with a gun. Look at the incident in south Alabama.”
Situations can escalate quickly. Lt. Earl Roach, safety coordinator for the Hall school system, said there have been instances when “irate” parents wait at the bus stop to confront the driver about various issues.
He said the sheriff’s office likes to train for situations before responding in a “knee-jerk reaction.”
“We like for our SWAT team to actually see the inside of the schools, the inside of the bus, so they have a general idea of what they’re going to (see) when they get there,” Roach said.
Around 20 SWAT members participated Tuesday. Training involved different methods of approaching and entering the bus, as well as considering how to handle weapons.
It’s important to review procedures, Roach said, particularly since these situations could involve young children.
“What we’re looking at here is more of a critical incident,” said Sgt. Stephen Wilbanks with the sheriff’s office. “Acts of terrorism, incidences of possible hostage taking, things of that nature. These are all going to be incidents that step up the level of danger for all parties involved.”
Carter said similar training was conducted for the 1996 Olympics.
“All the athletes and spectators were transported on buses,” he said.
The Hall school system provided the bus, another example of the partnership between the system and the sheriff’s office.
“We have an exceptionally good working relationship,” Wilbanks said. “This is just one more piece of that relationship, that we can work together with the school system to enhance security.”