The University of Victoria has implemented most of the recommendations for student travel made following a fatal bus crash near Bamfield in September 2019. The crash killed two UVic students and injured 48 others who were on their way to the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre for a field trip.
John Geerdes, 18, of Iowa City, Iowa, and Emma Machado, 18, of Winnipeg, Manitoba died in the crash. Forty-five students and two teaching assistants were on the bus heading to BMSC for a field trip when the charter bus they were riding in left the roadway and rolled onto its roof, resting three metres below the road.
“As the president of the University of Victoria, the safety of our students is my top priority,” says UVic president and vice-chancellor Kevin Hall in a statement.
“Our community will never forget what happened Sept. 13, 2019. We will honour the memories of John and Emma with our commitment to continually improving our student travel and crisis response processes. We’ve learned so much over these past years and we’re grateful to those who have been closely involved in the review process and implementation of the recommendations.
“UVic is dedicated to doing everything we can to prevent an accident like this from ever happening again. Today my heartfelt thoughts are with Emma and John’s families and all of the students who were affected.”
The university has fulfilled all recommendations except those contingent on a return trip to Bamfield, which hasn’t happened due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and COVID-19 travel restrictions.
The marine sciences centre (BMSC) is co-managed between UVic, the University of B.C., Simon Fraser University, University of Alberta and University of Calgary. The whole premise of the centre is to provide hands-on, ocean-based student field trip experiences.
When Ross Cloutier released an independent report on the incident in June 2020 university officials resolved to implement recommendations within 12 months. A committee struck solely to deal with the recommendations grouped them into 11 projects and put them into action.
Implementation goes beyond field trips, the report notes. A hazard assessment included in Cloutier’s report was used to create a university-wide field planning and risk assessment tool.
“The lessons learned from this tragic accident and review have also been applied more widely by improving plans, procedures and training for a better response in the event of any future emergencies occurring off campus. This work has led to significant improvements to emergency plans at UVic, as well as enhancements to our emergency management training program.”
The university is establishing a student critical incident response team and created a new role of special advisor for academic crisis management, designed to ensure rapid, effective coordination between student support providers and faculties.
Contract management and field school planning processes and standards have been created at the university, and BMSC has launched a central website hub that includes practical transportation information and best practices for university classes. Improved communication about road conditions and other details has also been put into place.
A trip to Bamfield for the students involved in the incident will be arranged once BMSC is open again, and at the students’ discretion.
The report acknowledged the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, upon whose territory the marine sciences centre is located, and thanked those members who came to the assistance of the students during the incident. Huu-ay-aht members who pressured the provincial government to fund improvements to the Bamfield Main Road were also acknowledged.
The university is also willing to share their findings and implementations with other post-secondary institutions that send students to the BMSC for studies.