Public address (PA) systems can be a crucial part of the safe operation of school buses. A vital communication tool, they provide a way for bus drivers to safely share with students important information such as arrival and departure times, restore order to a bus with unruly children and communicate during emergency situations.
To enable safe and easy communication in a variety of situations, PA systems can be equipped to work both on the inside and outside of buses. While the internal system feature is used to address the students on board, the external feature, a speaker on the outside of the bus referred to as a PA horn, enables drivers to direct students to cross safely in front of the bus, and share information with teachers, aides, parents and first responders during emergency situations.
The systems are also used to guide other driver duties, such as directing maintenance staff outside the bus as they are checking lights or adjusting mirrors.
Delaware, other states, require external use
The external PA feature is required in a handful of states, including Delaware, North Carolina, Idaho and Oregon.
Particularly, the Delaware Department of Education’s administrative code, Regulation 1104, SB Standards, has required the use of external as well as internal PA systems for many years, according to Ron Love, state supervisor of school transportation at the Delaware Department of Education.
“We use it to cross students with an audible clearance signal from the driver or the aide,” he explains. Students are instructed to wait to cross the street during unloading and loading until they hear the clearance signal from the PA system.
The location of the speakers is also very important, Love adds. In Delaware, the two interior speakers must be placed above the window line, and not within four feet of the driver’s seat back in its rearmost upright position. Additionally, according to the state’s administrative code, the outside speaker must be located, depending on whether the bus is Type A or B, on the left front side of the bus forward of the front wheels; Type C, in the engine compartment forward of the radiator or on the inside of the front bumper on the left side; or Type D, under the floor on the left side of the bus between the front bumper and the left front wheel.
After the National Congress on School Transportation specified the location of internal PA systems in its 2010 National School Transportation Specifications and Procedures, Love explains, the Delaware Department of Education discussed with three vehicle manufacturers — Blue Bird, IC Bus and Thomas Built Buses — the best place to locate the speaker for optimal sound before it revised its latest standards to include its requirement details.
“The external speaker location wasn’t clear in the previous requirements,” Love says.
A noise suppression feature that is controlled by a switch is another state requirement. Drivers need to turn off all radios and noisy equipment or use a noise suppression switch at railroad crossings. It must be labeled and alternately colored, have an on/off function and deactivate body equipment that produces noise, including heaters, air conditioners, fans and defrosters.
REI provides customizable systems
With many states requiring them, a PA system on the inside of a school bus is almost standard operating procedure, Chris Shigley, national sales manager for REI, says. REI meets this need with a wide range of custom PA systems from its basic Panel Mount PA system to its 760928, with features such as wireless microphones and external PAs, as well as the ability to immediately switch from radio mode to PA mode.
Some of REI’s PA systems include a squelch mechanism that sends a loud, high-pitched, screeching noise through the speaker and ambient noise systems that dynamically adjust the sound in specific areas of the vehicle.
“That’s the uniqueness of REI: our scalability,” Shigley says. “Whether you want just one simple independent PA that’s not even a radio, or one that’s integrated with a radio and wireless headsets, we have a solution for you. We can custom-configure a system [with] the simple internal PA or an AM/FM/CD/SD/USB port wireless headset internal/external PA system.”
Custom Radio offers PA-on-demand
A wide variety can also be found among Custom Radio Corp.’s PA systems. In addition to basic radios with PAs built in, Custom Radio’s products also come equipped with emergency switches. As with REI’s systems, some include a squelching mechanism to get the attention of students, for example, if there is disorder on the bus, and a PA-on-demand feature, a controller mechanism that overrides other functions, such as the radio, in case of an emergency.
For example, Custom Radio Corp.’s new PA system product, the CSS-1000E Din Mount, provides all these capabilities, as well as three microphone inputs.
While some of Custom Radio’s systems come with all the bells and whistles, such as SB and USB ports and capabilities for controlling audio, and external microphones for tour buses, Custom Radio can also simplify its radios for easy plug-and-play use. Each radio comes with a PA built into it. The CSS 1008 Din-Mount PA system is the most popular because it is strictly the PA, Eric Storey, bus sales, Custom Radio Corp., says.
“It eliminates all kinds of driver distractions. You don’t have to worry about messing with the radio.”
Increasingly, school bus applications of internal PA systems include drivers using microphones to give school tours and coaches to provide game strategies on the way to athletic events, Storey adds. Some of Custom Radio’s PAs can be used to narrate while watching game film by placing a microphone near the front seats, preventing the coach from having to cross into the restricted area near the driver.