Enhancing Security with Video Surveillance

Claire Atkinson, Associate Editor
Posted on April 1, 2008

Manufacturers of video surveillance systems are rapidly evolving their products in order to keep up with the pace of digital and wireless technology.

In the school bus market, that evolution is targeted to improve the ease of storing, accessing and sharing video, the longevity of the hardware and the amount of detailed information available to administrators, all while keeping costs in check.

247Security Inc.
247Security has unveiled the next generation in its 400 series of digital video recorders (DVRs) and plans to launch its 500 series this spring. New features on the 400 series models 402 and 404 include GPS tracking, wireless downloading capability, automated event marking and improved data storage. The company is also coming out with new cameras, which will provide better visual coverage of the entire bus.

247Security has made download speed and management of video files across a network a priority in the engineering of its systems. “When you get this kind of technology, it’s great, but you don’t want it to slow you down,” Scott says.

The company manufactures digital recorders exclusively. In comparison to VCR systems, digital video allows school staff to more quickly access the footage they need and transfer it to other staff members, Scott says. And with 247’s GPS-integrated data recording feature, “We can look at where a vehicle’s been, where it stopped and compare that to the planned route; we can also look at vehicle idle patterns and check on speeding violations,” Scott says. “We offer information that’s valuable to management when dealing with complaints from school personnel and parents.”

Additionally, all recorders have five sensor inputs, such as the bus doors and lights, for automatically marking events in the video feed. “The system senses certain movements of the vehicle, and it will report back those activities,” Scott says.

AngelTrax DVR systems can be outfitted with the company’s patented Virtual Synchronized Mapping (VSM) technology, which integrates GPS navigation and video in the onscreen display.

President and CEO Richie Howard compares the VSM feature to the consumer navigational systems found in cars. “Not only does it show you exactly where kids board and disembark the bus, it also shows exactly where the bus driver is routing, and it follows you along just like navigation in your car,” he explains. “It’s recording that information at the same time it’s recording the video.”

IntelliTrax VSM allows transportation and other school officials to view footage of students boarding or disembarking the bus, while simultaneously confirming their location on a map. “It’s synchronized navigation on the screen right next to the camera views,” Howard says. Schools with wireless networks that use VSM can view live video from their buses in real time.

Howard reports that the University of Alabama has installed VSM on its student transit buses. Because universities often have campus-wide wireless networks in place, live video surveillance is an effective security solution. “The cost is zero per month for this feature,” Howard explains. “Once you buy it and put it on the bus, you’re finished.”

Apollo Video Technology
Apollo Video Technology has invested in new GPS mapping technology in developing its RoadRunner DVR models, according to Rodell Notbohm, general manager. GPS coordinates were previously available, but now Apollo customers can search through video footage by location, using the Interactive Speed and Mapping software component.

“It’s a search capability that makes the job of the pupil transportation director much easier, because now they can look at a route and click on the stops and see who entered and left,” Notbohm says. “You can see the entire route without watching the video.”

With up to 750 gigabytes of storage and four channels of video, transportation departments can utilize more cameras and longer recording duration, Notbohm says.

The RoadRunner’s ClipCopy feature allows users to select a time frame in the video footage, saving feeds from all the cameras connected to the system into a single, self-executing playback fi le that is compatible with any Windows-based computer. “That means the transportation director can put it on the server or send it in an e-mail or on CD without requiring special additional software at each station,” Notbohm says.

Gatekeeper Systems Inc.
Gatekeeper’s DVR platform is used and approved by the U.S. Air Force after going through a two-year testing process, says Doug Dyment, CEO. “Not only are we protecting troops overseas in theater,” he says, “but that same technology is protecting precious cargo back here at home.”

One of the features of the system that serves the needs of both the military and school bus operations is the built-in thermal intelligence system, which activates either fans or heaters to bring the hardware to proper operating temperature.

In May, Gatekeeper will release its new Nitro™ product, which has been reduced in size and now weighs less than five pounds. The Nitro™ system will allow transportation departments to use either a hard drive or a USB fl ash card to store video and data. “It’s a unique hybrid design of both a solid state recorder as well as a spinning drive recorder,” Dyment says. The removable storage devices — Comrads, as Gatekeeper calls them — are small enough to fit inside your shirt pocket, according to Dyment. “You don’t need any proprietary software to read the data, you don’t need a docking station,” he explains. “You just plug it into your desktop station with a mini USB port, similar to an iPod.”

In addition, a custom-designed codec ensures the data is viewed by authorized personnel only.

The company’s mobile video software component includes GPS and mapping capability, and it will soon include RFID student tracking and engine data, Dyment reports.

Honeywell Video Systems
Larry Chin, product manager at Honeywell Video Systems, says the company will be releasing a new four-channel digital video system — the HTR4 — in April. All Honeywell recorders are equipped with patented technology called SaVR (Shock and Vibration Reduction), which protects the equipment from temperature fluctuation and rough road conditions, Chin says.

Along with video and audio capture, the new system also records turn signal activation, brake usage and instances of the door opening and closing. In addition, customers who add a GPS receiver will be able to track latitude/longitude coordinates. “The GPS is optional,” Chin explains, “but all the other data is standard. As long as they interface to the vehicle, they will capture that data automatically.”

Video and data can be accessed by removing the hard drive from the unit and plugging it into a reader, or connecting to it with an Ethernet cable or via a wireless device. Users can then search the footage using the suite of software that comes with the system.

Chin says that he sees a trend among school districts to make the switch from analog to digital systems. But the company’s mobile VCR unit, the HTR62, is still a popular choice due to its cost-effectiveness. “Mobile VCR systems are still in demand today; however, digital systems are becoming standard,” Chin says. “The trend is moving that way because the director of transportation wants the benefits, which include the ability to search and quickly find video clips and data, and being able to easily transfer the material via e-mail.”

National Scientific Co.
President Graham Clark describes National Scientific’s Travado IBUS mobile video and student tracking system as a sophisticated mobile computing platform. “It’s a small, highly advanced computer,” he says. “Therefore, we can plug all sorts of things into it. If someone wants to track students, it’s very easy to install that as a component without a lot of extra hardware.”

The company is able to integrate many different types of student tracking technology with the system, including RFID, fingerprints or barcodes. Then, the system displays each child’s name as he or she boards, allowing schools to obtain photographic evidence of who is and who is not on the bus, Clark explains.

The system can also be set up to notify parents by text message or e-mail when their children board or disembark the school bus.

National Scientific’s DVR unit also comes standard with GPS and WiFi capability. By adding a cellular communication component, school administrators can view bus activity on a live feed of video footage. Users can access video footage from any location. “You can sit at your desk and as long as you have the correct authorization, you can log into the system and request the video,” Clark says.

Radio Engineering Industries Inc. (REI)
REI has updated its BUS-WATCH® system — the next generation models are the single-channel R1001 and four-channel R4001. Improvements to the system include new high-resolution cameras that provide color output in daytime and black and white at night; improved audio circuits that eliminate ambient background noise and isolate voices; and improved cables to eliminate signal loss.

According to Guy Jukes, vice president of marketing, the system’s features specifically target the needs of school bus operations, particularly in case of accidents or to resolve disputes. For example, dash-mounted cameras that face forward capture the driver’s view, and an accelerometer module acts as a “black box“ to monitor hard braking, erratic turns and harsh roads. REI also offers software and firmware upgrades through the company’s Website, making it easy for transportation departments to keep their systems up-to-date.

The BUS-WATCH® DVR system also monitors speed, turn signals, warning lights and other inputs. “Transportation directors can utilize the data to train drivers and mediate disputes,” Jukes says.

The REI hard drive module provides for added security with its USB lockout feature, which eliminates the ability to access the recorded information without the key. “If a school wishes to utilize the optional steel lock box for the DVR, they will have a separate third key, further enhancing the chain of custody,” Jukes says.

Safety Vision LP
Safety Vision currently produces three models of its RouteRecorder brand, a two-channel model (the RouteRecorder 2C), a four-channel model (4C), and the RouteRecorder CF, which stands for compact fl ash. “The CF is a very simple, single-channel recorder and our most cost-effective system,” says Chris Beard, national sales manager.

Because the CF and 2C models have the same connections on the back as Safety Vision VCR models, it is a simple drop-in replacement. “[Customers] can upgrade from analog to digital relatively easily and cost-effectively, because they don’t have to buy the whole system,” Beard says. “They just buy a little DVR and it uses the same existing hook-ups and lockbox.”

The RouteRecorder CF is “solid state,” with no moving parts and no hard drive. Instead, the DVR uses a fl ash card to store video footage.

One feature that helps to improve security on school buses, Beard says, is a flashing LED on the camera heads. “The customer can turn it on or off, but we think having a flashing LED works as a great deterrent for misbehavior, which makes things safer for the driver,” Beard says.

In addition, Safety Vision offers a GPS mapping utility that is part of the viewing software. This feature does not use or affect capacity on its media device, allowing for the storage of more video and data. Safety Vision also offers a live online link for technical assistance with both hardware and software questions. Company representatives can also provide training via this online link.

Seon Design Inc.
Seon’s Explorer DVR system is a popular choice among school bus customers, says Ian Radziejewski, president. Features include a higher compression rate, allowing for greater storage capacity, and Seon’s Smart-Reach wireless bridge, which makes the system GPS- and wireless-ready.

Using Smart-Reach, transportation staff can view a live video feed over their local WiFi network, or can download previously-recorded footage. Smart- Temp, another feature of Seon DVR units, regulates operating temperature.

Seon also offers the Scout mobile VCR system, equipped with Smart- Start power-up protection, and the Trooper nine-channel DVR unit. The Explorer DVR is available in both four- and eight-channel configurations.

“If you were to ask me, what’s the one area in mobile video that’s gathering momentum at school districts, it would be the wireless option,” Radziejewski says. “That’s something that with an Explorer system, they can add later on. They don’t have to commit to adding full wireless from day one.”


Virtual synchronized mapping in action

Humble (Texas) Independent School District has AngelTrax’s IntelliTrax VSM installed on two of its school buses: one regular route bus and one special-needs bus. Harold Stence, shop foreman, says each bus is equipped with two cameras, which provide video footage in sync with a GPS mapping display. When Stence reviews footage, he is able to see both what was happening on board the bus and where the vehicle was located, simultaneously.

“We’re really pleased with it,” he says. “We actually put it in the specs for our next set of buses.”

Stence values the unit’s GPS capability, as it enables him to monitor driver activity. The system proved to be effective in resolving a situation in which drivers were abusing the transportation department’s timekeeping process. “The coordinator wanted to put it on this one special-needs bus because the drivers were sitting somewhere to make time. They didn’t realize it was tracking them.”


Related Topics: school bus security, video surveillance

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