Paducah (Ky.) Public Schools' Steven Spraggs is in the process of converting his 36-bus fleet to Fortress Systems International video surveillance equipment. The four-camera system also provides passive GPS tracking, speeds and other vehicle data.
It seems obvious: Put a camera on a bus so you can monitor driver and passenger activity in case something goes wrong.
But with the variety of systems and configurations to choose from, the decision is more complicated than that. Should more than one camera be installed? What view should each camera capture? Does video have other uses besides surveillance?
Selecting a system
Many times, schools will test several systems before choosing the one to equip buses with. "We did a year-long study and borrowed systems from eight different companies," says Mike Peiffer, who directs safety and training in the Mehlville School District transportation department in St. Louis. During this period, Peiffer says Radio Engineering Industries' (REI) BUS-WATCH system stood out because it worked right away and kept working without a malfunction.
"We have two cameras on each bus," he says — one at each end of the bus' interior. "We're using a 2.8 mm, which is a wide-angle lens. That allows us to see the door, the students and the driver in the front, and we can see the back seats, where the trouble usually is." The district buys REI systems through dealer Central States Bus Sales.
REI’s BUS-TRACKER software is compatible with all of the company’s BUS-WATCH surveillance systems.
Peiffer says the system's audio and video provide clear evidence in case of onboard incidents or accidents with other vehicles. "We have had buses rear-ended, and you can actually see the accident occur," he says. "You can see the vehicle approach, you can hear and see the accident, which is really good for liability if someone decides to claim injury. One time, the driver that hit the bus came up and said, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't even see you. I was watching the ambulance.'"
One of the system's major benefits, he says, is in catching students who damage seats on the bus. "The year before we put in cameras, our garage staff replaced 95 seat covers," he says. "Now if we see damage to the seat, we review the video and send a bill for labor and parts to the parents along with a write-up for the student. We've recovered thousands of dollars, and now the kids know they're going to have to pay for the seat."
At Certified Transportation Services Inc. in Santa Ana, Calif., Operations Supervisor Sean Gregory says that using video surveillance in driver training was an unexpected benefit of having the systems installed on fleet buses. "There's nothing like being able to show a driver what they're doing," he says. Any particular maneuvers it helps with in training drivers? "Following distance, without a doubt," he says. "That's the leading cause of accidents that we've encountered, and it's something that the drivers don't get until you show them."
The Dual-Vision recorder from Rosco is a dash-mounted unit that captures images from
the interior of the bus cabin as well as viewing the roadway ahead of the bus.
Eight of the company's buses are equipped with Rosco Vision Systems' Dual-Vision system, a dash-mounted continuous video recorder that captures both interior and exterior bus views.
For Rick Ellis, assistant director of transportation at Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Houston, customer service figured greatly in his selection of AngelTrax Bus Video as his department's video surveillance vendor. "They addressed issues that we had and we believe their technology is good, but their support was I think the defining factor," he says.
Most of the time, Ellis uses the system to respond to reported incidents on the bus. But he also does random checks for driver assessment. He also relies on his video system for the facts surrounding any incident involving a school bus. "These new units give you so much data. It gives you a chance to look at the facts, and I think that's invaluable," he says.
John Bailey, a mechanic for Little Rock (Ark.) School District, says he finds it very easy to train people on the AngelTrax system. The district's security staff have laptops in their cars, he says, and can access bus video remotely. In addition, the quality of the footage has led to the resolution of a driver dispute. "We had a wreck, and the driver is claiming workers' compensation. She is now in legal status with that and we have video to back up that she was never hurt," Bailey says. "It was good enough video that the doctor requested it."