The West Valley School District has turned a 2004 International school bus that would have otherwise been scrapped, or sold, into an incident response vehicle wired for the internet that can be used as a mobile command post during emergencies.
District staff has been working on the transformation as time allows for the past three months and hopes to complete the project by the end of the month.
“It’s a work in progress,” Brad Liberg said. Liberg is the principal of Pasadena Park Elementary and is also responsible for the district’s safety and security program.
The interior of the bus is packed with everything the district might need – safety vests, traffic cones, clipboards, two-way radios and media tents. Most of the seats have been removed, but some remain around two large tables. Interior lights have been installed in the ceiling and a power strip sits above each table to provide easy laptop and cellphone charging.
A large table in the rear of the bus also acts as a charging station, with an even larger strip of electrical outlets available below a row of 18 two-way radios that are constantly charged and ready to go. A large screen TV that can be plugged into a laptop sits on one side of the bus near one of the tables.
There are a variety of options when it comes to powering the bus, said system administrator Derek Cooper.
“We can run off the bus motor, run a generator or just plug straight into a building,” he said.
The bus’s 100-foot power cord that plugs into a port on the exterior of the bus can provide power from a building. There are also four electrical outlets on the exterior of the bus that also can power various electronics.
It has been a challenge to bring an old bus into the fully-wired 21st century, Cooper said.
“It was definitely an experience,” he said. “It was just problem solving. The big thing was getting power over the tables so people can plug in laptops.”
Schools often practice evacuation drills and do it smoothly, Liberg said, but what gets chaotic is reuniting children with their parents after an evacuation. It can be hard to coordinate communication with parents from the parking lot of a school.
“We thought this was the best solution,” he said.
Superintendent Gene Sementi said school evacuations for a variety of reasons aren’t unusual, but the need for something like the incident response bus was clear on a recent winter morning when Spokane Valley High School was evacuated.
“It was 7:30 in the morning and 5 degrees,” Sementi said. “There was nowhere to stand and nowhere to go.”
Sementi said the district also has the added challenge of two active railroad lines running through it, raising the issue of possibly catastrophic train derailments.
“West Valley High School and Orchard Center are right on the UP (Union Pacific Railroad) line,” he said.
If there’s ever an emergency involving more than one school, students will be bused to the parking lot of Sun City Church near Sprague Avenue and University Road.
“The church has been fantastic to partner with,” Sementi said.
Once the bus is fully outfitted it will be tested, Liberg said. “We’re planning a drill later in September,” he said. “We’ll have some sort of rehearsal.”
Sementi said he doesn’t have an exact cost for the bus renovation project but said the wiring and other additions cost more than the bus is worth, which is about $1,000. And though the new incident response bus should be helpful, Semeni would prefer it not be needed.
“Hopefully we’ll use it for the open house and never have to roll it out for an emergency,” he said. “It’ll be nice to have it available if and when we ever need it.”
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