Surveillance Systems Offer Array of Services

Kara Ohngren, Editorial Assistant
Posted on September 1, 2005

Video surveillance systems are becoming a standard feature, rather than an amenity, on many school buses.

Recent advances in digital technology and service of the systems after the sale are increasing the effectiveness and availability of surveillance equipment.

Video cameras can be used as monitoring devices, safety training tools, watchdogs for misbehaving students and providers of evidence in a dispute.

Today, there is a large number of companies producing mobile video surveillance equipment. Following is a guide to key suppliers and their most popular products designed for use aboard school buses.

BusVision of Norcross, Ga., is an integrator of video systems and is dedicated to the school bus industry. The company is constantly developing new solutions, and it understands the industry well.

The company's digital video product line offers users the latest technology. Most importantly, the systems are designed for the mobile market from the ground up — with no adaptations.

BusVision says that what makes it stand out is the service after the sale. These are computer systems, and they require engineering support. Supporting the product is the company's top priority.

BusVision offers a range of systems, from single channel up to eight channels of video. The company locates cameras to the customer's specification and offers onsite training.

New developments to look for from BusVision include improved storage capacity, wireless transfer and other features that are in the works.

Gatekeeper Systems Inc.
Gatekeeper Systems Inc. (GSI) in Sumas, Wash., offers a wide range of camera solutions, including camcorder, VHS and digital video recorders combined with outstanding customer and project implementation support.

GSI developed and manufactures the GSX family of digital recorders, which are exclusively for school buses, to be among the most cost-effective, rugged and user-friendly solutions available.

The state-of-the-art product line features one of the largest standard storage capacities — at 80GB — and through the use of USB 2.0, the system provides fast download speeds and flexible connectivity options to eliminate the need for a docking station.

The design allows video to be reviewed through the GK Video Viewer, which provides increased functionality, or directly through Windows Media Player to increase simplicity.

Product enhancements and feature upgrades are continually made and are available free through the Internet. Consequently, GSX clients never have to worry about their systems becoming outdated.

Available system enhancements include total-darkness visibility, external cameras for stop arms, GPS integration, wireless transfer of video and more.

Honeywell Video Systems in Surrey, British Columbia, recently introduced its BusView Player Version 1.2.

The system features a self-contained video-clip archiving system that allows users to quickly find, print, distribute and archive video and audio files for future use. The new version of BusView helps keep video clips secure by avoiding common media players, such as MPEG or AVI.

The enhanced BusView includes features designed to help users work more efficiently: an online help function; a reorganized, easier-to-use main screen; increased ease in camera replacement; extensive, four-camera viewing options; and new image quality and frame rates. The improved image quality setting supports longer recording times and maximizes hard-drive storage.

BusView also includes advanced searching capabilities that allow users to quickly locate a specific instance of video footage by narrowing search parameters. New search parameters include time frame, triggers, cameras, record rules and vehicle speed.

BusView V1.2 is completely compatible with previous versions of the system and easily integrates with Honeywell's Digital Chaperone DDR, an all-digital video and data recorder system designed specifically for transportation operations. The system supports Microsoft Windows 2000, XP Professional and XP Home Edition.

{+PAGEBREAK+} Radio Engineering Industries
Radio Engineering Industries Inc. (REI) in Omaha, Neb., has been supplying products to the school bus industry for 25 years.

Thousands of school districts across North America have come to depend on REI for quality products, competitive pricing, advanced engineering capabilities and knowledgeable, responsive customer support.

Engineered specifically for the rugged school bus environment, REI's electronics and BUS-WATCH camera systems include only durable, industrial components designed to withstand extreme temperatures, vibration and other rigors commonly associated with the wear and tear of everyday use on buses.

Purchasing a camera is a long-term investment. Finding someone to handle the repairs after the warranty expires should not be a concern. Accordingly, REI provides exceptional service and technical support for its customers.

The company's in-house engineering department and 24/7 technical support staff are ready to handle any problems or questions that customers might encounter. REI's service department repairs the company's products long after they've been purchased.

Safety Vision
Earlier this year, Safety Vision LP of Houston introduced its latest mobile digital video recorder, the RouteRecorder 1000. Specifically tailored to the school bus market, the RouteRecorder fills a special niche.

The system offers a low-cost analog-to-digital upgrade that doubles as a drop-in DVR replacement for major brands of analog-based VCR systems. This facilitates the switch to digital while minimizing cash outlay and maximizing technological advances.

The RouteRecorder is a single-camera system that can also function in dual camera mode via video switching. User-programmable features (e.g., event marking, stop-arm sensor) customize the product for each customer's preference. User-friendly "plug and play" capability ensures a short learning curve and ease of use.

The RouteRecorder records real-time video at up to 30 frames per second. The system allows for recorded and/or on-screen display of vehicle speed and geographic coordinates via GPS integration.

Additionally, the RouteRecorder facilitates subsequent review of video through driver-activated, real-time event marking ("panic button").

The product provides rapid power-up plus outstanding reliability and security via the embedded "Lightning OS" operating system. RouteRecorder installs easily and cost effectively — with no need to reinstall cameras — and is configurable for optional dual-channel audio playback.

Seon Design
Seon Design in Coquitlam, British Columbia, manufactures and designs video surveillance systems engineered specifically for school bus environments. The Seon Scout VCR and Trooper digital video surveillance systems are available in various configurations, giving customers freedom to select the right equipment for their school buses.

The Trooper is a complete digital video surveillance system, offering all the benefits of digital recording without the complications.

No computer is required for setup or operation. Stored images can be viewed directly from the recorder, just like a VCR, or they can be downloaded to a computer for viewing, emailing or archiving.

The system is available in single- or four-channel configurations, with a range of camera options. The Trooper system includes a mobile DVR video camera with a 20-foot harness, secure DVR lock box and DVR wiring harness.

Meanwhile, the Scout VCR system combines an industrial-grade VCR with a superior camera and rugged lock box. The system is available in basic and full- feature configurations.

The Scout "basic" system includes an array of features, such as more than eight hours of recording time and five programmable timers. The "plus" system adds the ability to record information about bus signals and speed.

{+PAGEBREAK+} VerifEye
VerifEye Technologies in Markham, Ontario, offers the V-4500 Digital Video Recorder. The system is specially designed for mobile applications, focusing on the importance of durability, compact size, low power consumption and long-term reliability.

The V-4500 records up to four channels of video, one channel of audio, four separate event triggers, date/time, vehicle speed and GPS. All data is stored on a rugged, removable hard-disc cartridge, which is connected to a PC system for viewing.

The product is remarkably robust, tolerating power disturbances and voltage transients, mechanical shock and vibration, temperature extremes, moisture and dust.

The recorder box and mounting bracket measures less than 7.5 by 7.5 by 3.5 inches. The removable hard-drive cartridge connects to a standard PC via an IEEE-1394 high-speed interface for rapid data transfer and review. Low current draw and intelligent standby power management options eliminate battery drainage issues.


Caught on Tape

The following case study explains how an Iowa school district used video technology to curb stop-arm violations:

At the Spencer (Iowa) Community School District, dozens of motorists made a habit of illegally passing school buses. The district's transportatiom supervisor, Dan Schultz, heard bus drivers' complaints of the passing motorists, but he didn't know how to prove the violations were occurring. He began researching video technology that would record stop-arm violations for irrefutable evidence of the crimes.

Schultz was especially concerned about stop-arm violations occurring around the bus that carried Spencer's 3- and 4-year-old preschoolers. With the blessing of the Iowa Pupil Transportation Association (IPTA), the Iowa Department of Education purchased one VHS-based analog video recording system for Schultz to use on the preschool bus. The camera was mounted on the inside of the bus facing outward to record drivers who passed illegally.

When a violation occurred, the bus driver would say the car's license plate number aloud, describe the vehicle and make note of any witnesses, all of which was recorded through the system's audio input. The driver then reported the violation to Schultz, who filled out an incident report and turned the case and video over to the police.

In a six-month trial period with one camera installed on the preschool bus, 40 drivers were caught, and all but three pleaded guilty after viewing the tape. The local newspaper and radio station reported on Spencer's new recording system, and drivers took notice. In the second six-month recording period, only four drivers were caught passing school buses.

"It became nearly impossible for drivers to talk their way out of a stop-arm violation," Schultz said. "We have it on tape — you can't dispute video evidence."

Though the VHS system had been successful at catching stop arm violators, its image quality proved problematic at times, and without a date and time stamp, Schultz and his drivers had to search through hours of footage to find the passing motorist. The transportation department went through 40 videotapes in six months — when a tape contained a suspected violation, it could not be re-used until the trial date.

Schultz decided to upgrade to a digital recording system. He chose the Digital Chaperone by Honeywell, which provides crisp, clear images, the ability to e-mail photos and the ability to focus on various points. The Digital Chaperone also allows for multiple cameras to record continuously. Each bus has three cameras: one faces forward, recording any stop-arm violations; two face backward, recording video and audio in the rear and the front of the bus.

The digital system provides several additional benefits over the VHS-based analog system. Schultz can access the video cameras at any time from his laptop computer. Images are recorded with vehicle identification, date, time, camera name and various status inputs, which allows for more accurate investigations. Honeywell's system also comes with BusView software that allows Schultz to find, print, distribute and archive video and audio files.

Because of Spencer's success using a digital video recording system, the IPTA decided to expand the program. The state currently owns eight systems — six VHS and two digital — that are shared among districts that use them for a year.

Related Topics: video surveillance

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