Ohio Latest State in Checking School Buses for Terror Threat

CLEVELAND -- School bus drivers and education officials in Ohio and across the country are adding the fight against terrorism to their back-to-school check lists.

In Ohio, state education officials have expanded safety checklists to have drivers sniff cargo areas and tire valves for odors that could indicate a bomb. They also are looking for suspicious lumps in seats, odd wires under hoods or unusual marks on fenders.

"This is about precaution," said J.C. Benton, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Education. "It's not in response to attacks. This was in the works before the London terrorist stuff."

In a program that started Friday, drivers will get anti-terrorism training as part of a national School Bus Watch program. The goal is to have all 20,000 of the state's bus drivers conducting security checks within two years.

The program, organized by a partnership of several national groups, has a goal of training 600,000 school transportation employees nationwide.

"School bus drivers already play an important role in the safety and security of their communities," said Dale Krapf, president of the National School Transportation Association, one of the groups that organized the effort announced last month.

"School Bus Watch represents an important part of continuing that role and gives them some additional tools that will help them to keep their communities, their vehicles and our children safe," Krapf said.

Drivers will participate in 90-minute sessions that will include a brief history of terrorism in the United States and things drivers can do to protect themselves and children.

Pete Japikse, transportation director for the Ohio Department of Education, said the groups began to lobby the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security for anti-terrorism training several years ago. They designed a program and secured federal financing last fall.

Kevin Mallory, transportation director for the school district in Portland, Maine, is creating a program for his 30 drivers based on anti-terrorism material he collected at a state conference in July.

"Districts are becoming more responsible about what they should be doing," he said. "They're making this a front-burner issue."

Two weeks ago, bus drivers got a taste of security training at a seminar sponsored by Medina County schools.

The session began with a video of a staged bus explosion. State instructor Mike Redfern then told 500 drivers from 22 school districts that a bomb could be hidden in a space as small as a pencil box.

"I'm not trying to freak people out," he said. "Just trying to make you aware of what's out there."

Chris Kovach, a Brunswick driver who attended the seminar, said the time is right for districts to take the added security measures.

"It just makes you pay attention to everything more than you normally would," Kovach said.

(c)2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Loading