Situational awareness key to safe school season Published Sept. 7, 2012 By Airman Ashley J. Woolridge 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs ELLSWORTH AIR FORCE BASE, S.D. -- After three long months of barbecues, camping trips and staying up late, it can be difficult for students and parents to re-adjust to the strict routine of the school year. Changes in busing availability and housing for base residents have made it necessary both for Ellsworth drivers to adjust their travel routes, and for parents and students to be especially aware of their surroundings while making their way to and from school. "We've had a long summer," Michael Walter, 28th Bomb Wing Ground Safety safety and occupational health specialist, said. "People have gotten out of the habit of watching for little ones crossing the street. We do a local traffic conditions brief for all of the new arrivals at the base, but many Ellsworth drivers probably aren't going to be aware to keep an eye out for pedestrians using the new crosswalk by the Patriot Gate." Dr. Loren Scheer, Douglas School District superintendent of schools, said an emphasis on safety is especially crucial this year. "There's obviously more traffic this year, because the base is no longer providing transportation for kids," Scheer said. "A lot of kids are walking or riding their bikes to school, and there's an increase in personal vehicle traffic because parents are dropping their children off. People need to watch for those students and also for parents who may get impatient and try to go around other people." The location of the Douglas schools also presents a challenge to motorists and pedestrians. "Our campus is unique to other areas of the country because all of our schools are located in one area," Scheer explained. "Drivers just have to go slow and be patient, since all of the traffic is in a concentrated area." Walter said that looking out for signals from school buses can go a long way toward keeping students safe. "Any time you're around buses, watch out for the flashing lights," Walter said. "In all 50 states, it's illegal to pass a school bus while its lights are flashing. Watch out for kids, especially in the first 10 feet in front of a school bus - that's the danger zone. Even after a bus shuts off its lights, kids may still dart out across the street." Walter and Scheer agreed when it comes to back-to-school safety, education is the key. "Parents need to teach their children to approach the street slowly, and look both ways before crossing," Walter said. "Don't let your kids run up to the school bus - have them stand back on the grass. All of the stuff that our moms and dads taught us." "Don't assume that just because you're using a crosswalk, a car is going to stop," Scheer said. "Be defensive as you move around campus, so that accidents are less likely to happen." Although this year's changes may take a little getting used to, the outlook is promising. "I've been outside these first few days of school, and several parents have come up to me to give me suggestions, but they've also said that things are improving from the first day," Scheer said. "So far, the feedback has been that people appreciate how it's been going. All of our parents, whether they're coming from the base or the local community, are a big part of making sure all of this works and keeping our kids safe. We anticipate that things will continue to get better as everyone gets used to it."