With increasing security needs in the aftermath of 9/11 and the rise in incidents of bullying, road rage and stop-arm violators, more school bus operators are turning to video cameras to record incidents both inside and outside the vehicle.
Even drivers have hopped on the video surveillance bandwagon. Bruce D. Cram, a special-needs school bus driver for Franklin County (Ga.) School System, says internal systems are a great behavior management tool, but he wishes his bus was armed with an external system.
Cram cites stop-arm violators as an increasing problem. “The bus I currently drive uses a single-camera VCR unit,” he says. “However, my personal preference would be to have a camera mounted to view any vehicles passing the bus, to aid in ticketing the drivers who do not stop when the red lights and stop arm are activated.”
Assessing your needs
Trying to determine your operation’s needs can be tricky. These days, the options offered by surveillance system manufacturers can be overwhelming:
According to surveillance experts, the systems are as diverse as the questions themselves. The two broad types of units — analog and digital — are separated by numerous differences, but each has its advantages.
Technology isn’t cheap
Cost is an imperative factor for Beth MacDonald, transportation supervisor for Stephens County (Ga.) Schools. While MacDonald does have a few of the old analog systems that she shuffles among the buses in her small, rural fleet, she sums up why she is not a huge surveillance systems advocate in one word — expense.
“Expense of both equipment repair and personnel required to monitor the equipment are the drawbacks,” MacDonald says. “If I were to upgrade, I’d switch to an external system. But for internal behavioral management issues, sitting the kids in the front seats of the bus still works great.”
Dan Payne, transportation director for Stanwood-Camano (Wash.) School District, has a different point of view. Payne views the systems as a necessity. He says driver safety and prevention of bullying or other violent acts are today’s most pressing pupil transportation security needs. To combat the aforementioned, Payne uses conflict-management training seminars and has equipped his fleet with both analog and digital video surveillance systems.
“The biggest plus in all surveillance systems is having recorded evidence of incidents that may occur,” Payne says. “They also serve as a deterrent, be it for bullying or paddle-arm violators.”
Several manufacturers offer video surveillance systems to school bus operators. Here are details about their latest products and special features.
Honeywell Video Systems
Honeywell Video Systems’ Larry Chin, project manager, mobile, says that while the company’s most popular product remains the VCR (HTR62), there is a definite trend toward digital systems.
Honeywell’s drop-in replacement system that allows a seamless switch from analog to digital is chasing the heels of Honeywell’s analog top sellers. While Chin does not foresee digital supplanting analog overnight, he does see a migration toward the former.
“There is no doubt analog systems are on the way out as digital systems are becoming mainstreamed,” Chin says. “Digital offers more options. Think of a CD versus a cassette tape.”
While Radio Engineering Industries’ (REI) analog BUS-WATCH System remains a popular item, the company recently released its next generation of BUS-WATCH — the Digital BUS-WATCH IV DVR (see Product Highlights).
Guy Jukes, REI’s vice president of marketing and sales, says that while REI still sells thousands of analog systems annually, the demand for digital is on the rise. As such, he believes extinction lies in analog surveillance systems’ future.
“When evidence is required to determine the facts or for liability coverage, a video record eliminates uncertainty,” says Jukes. “Digital is a more dependable recording format, requires less maintenance, records longer and is more efficient at archiving.”
Safety Vision’s RouteRecorder 1000 MDVR and the RouteRecorder 5C MDVR are two of the company’s top sellers. The RouteRecorder 5C MDVR records up to five camera views and is equipped with a shock-resistant, mobile-rated removable hard drive canister.
Chris Beard, national sales manager for Safety Vision, feels digital is here to stay and that eventually live streaming video will be viewed from a central location within a school district. “Technological advancement will allow easier, faster, more cost-effective ways to retrieve and obtain better coverage,” Beard says.
According to Seon President Ian Radziejewski, the Trooper DVR system edged out last year’s top-selling Scout VCR system as the company’s “hot” product for the pupil transportation market.
Radziejewski believes digital surveillance cameras better address what he calls today’s top security concern — student misbehavior — be it bullying or distracting the driver. Radziejewski feels proper camera placement on the bus is imperative, and his staff works closely with the district when installing the systems.
“For parents, a video surveillance system gives them the peace of mind that their children have an added level of protection while they are on the bus,” says Radziejewski.
While 247 Security is a relatively new player in the pupil transportation market, Robert Scott, vice president of sales and marketing, has been an industry player his entire career. A true USB device, the top-selling DVR 400 series features a compact, user-friendly installation, snap-on conductors, removable hard drive, wireless and memory-stick capabilities and secure password-protected software. The 500 series will be released shortly.
“We focused on video retrieval,” says Scott. “With a memory stick, you have video literally in your pocket. While wireless has not yet been embraced by the school bus industry, we are confident that wireless will become the default standard. And we are ready to go with that now.”
The Seon Night Owl Video Surveillance System helps to collect better images under low-light conditions, such as twilight or night.
Under normal lighting, the camera produces color images for the video recorder. At night, the camera addresses the change and automatically switches to black and white mode. The camera records low-light details that even an eyewitness with 20/20 vision potentially could miss.
Further boosting the Night Owl system’s capabilities under low-light conditions is the IR (infrared) illuminator, which consists of an array of 16 light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that produce a beam of light in the infrared spectrum that is invisible to the human eye but detectable by the Night Owl camera. The camera delivers clear images from a distance of up to 30 feet in total darkness.