The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District (CFISD) in Harris County near Houston had a communications problem.
According to a case study by JVCKENWOOD USA, the Texas school district’s two-way radios couldn’t keep up with the growth it was experiencing.
“As the school district grew, we had dead spots on campuses and were not able to communicate consistently with our campus police officers,” says Lt. Casey J. Davis, former director of emergency management for the CFISD Police Department.
Larger than the city of Denver at 186 square miles, CFISD relies heavily on two-way radios to ensure safety and security. The radios are crucial to transportation requirements for the 1,100 buses operating out of five transportation centers and to administration, engineering, and operations.
CFISD worked with Northwest Communications, a local Kenwood dealer, on a plan to deploy new communications technology, transitioning from conventional analog operation on seven UHF channels with a single 300-foot tower to NEXEDGE digital technology and multiple tower sites.
Don Cameron, president of Northwest Communications, explained that he met with the transportation department after the first tower was built, to address what they needed and got the department’s new communication system set up. He then constructed three additional towers.
“Once the infrastructure was installed and the transportation department radios were up and running, we converted the NEXEDGE radios from analog to digital during summer when schools were closed. Once that was complete, we flipped the switch, and everyone moved to digital,” he says.
By transitioning to digital communications, CFISD public safety personnel no longer must rely on industrial pool channels. The 32 channels on the towers are for district-wide communications on public safety frequencies in 450 MHz.
“These are exclusive, FB8 channels,” Cameron says. “Now, no one can talk over the police department, so that’s an extra layer of security.”
An FB8 channel is a repeater operating within a centralized trunked radio system, which provides exclusive use of the designated frequency within a geographical area, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
All CFISD buses are equipped with Kenwood NEXEDGE mobiles. Dispatch for each transportation center is set up so that when a bus driver keys up their radio, the vehicle is automatically identified. That allows campus police to immediately reroute buses if there is an emergency.
“Those incidents do occur, and we need to be able to keep the kids safe on their way to and from school, no matter what happens,” Davis says. The addition of Zonar Fleet Management further ensures accuracy in incident recording and response, according to the case study.
Communications systems for pupil transportation are more than just a way to stay connected; they can be lifesavers.
Because school bus drivers are prohibited from using mobile devices while behind the wheel, two-way radio systems remain the best form of communication. We’ve highlighted some communications systems on the market, and features that may come in handy in a life-threatening situation.
Kenwood Integrated System Solutions
Kenwood’s two-way radios help keep pupil transportation staff across the district informed of route changes, emergencies, and offer clear communication between buses and the base. Kenwood's trunking makes it possible to create a site that is ideal for managing school bus fleets. Kenwood offers integrated system solutions.
The NX-5300 offers mixed digital and FM analog operation and can easily migrate with digital radios in other sites. It has a Bluetooth module built-in for hands-free operation.
- 6 W (136-174 MHz) Models
- 5 W (380-470, 450-520 MHz) Models
- 3 W (700/800 MHz) Models
- Multi-Digital Operation in two of NXDN, DMR & P25 (Phase 1 & 2)
- NXDN Conventional and Type-C & Gen2 Trunking
- DMR Tier III Trunking
- Active Noise Reduction (ANR)
- Over-The Air Programming
This adaptable mobile radio supports both NXDN and DMR digital protocols, as well as mixed digital and FM analog operation, enabling it to serve in a wide range of applications. It also offers Bluetooth for hands-free operation, and built-in GPS.
- UHF:450-520 MHz, 400-470MHZ
- NXDN Conventional and Type-C & Gen2 trunking
- DMR Tier III trunking
- DMR Tier II conventional
- Active Noise Reduction (ANR)
Motorola Solutions' Maximum Coverage for Reliable Communications
Motorola Solutions’ two-way radios connect faculty, buses, and first responders to coordinate incident response and prevention. Radio systems offer maximum coverage, capacity, and control for reliable communications.
Motorola MOTOTRBO R7 Portable Two-Way Radio
The rugged MOTOTRBO R7 with the full keypad is a good handheld option for school bus drivers, according to Motorola Solutions. It works on the DMR standard and delivers sharp, clear speech. The volume adjusts automatically based on background noise, making it ideal for crowded school buses. Detailed information from school dispatchers can be displayed on the home screen. The device can be programmed and updated over the air via WiFi and is powered by a battery that lasts up to 28 hours.
- VHF: 136-174 MHz, 5 W
- UHF: 400-527 MHz, 4 W
- Industrial-level noise cancellation
- Channel Capacity: 1,000
Motorola MOTOTRBO XPR 5550e Digital Mobile Two-Way Radio
With high-performance integrated voice and data, and advanced features for efficient operation, these next-generation radios deliver connectivity to your department, according to Motorola. Bluetooth audio lets you talk without wires. Integrated Wi-Fi enables remote software updates, as well as voice connectivity via WAVE OnCloud when you are out of range of your MOTOTRBO system (service subscription required). The MOTOTRBO XPR 5000e Series is a family of DMR-standard digital radios. There is support for trunking, as well as legacy analog technology.
- VHF: 136-174 MHz, 1-25 W
- UHF Band 1: 403-470MHz, 25-40 W
- UHF Band 2: 250-512 MHz, 1-40 W
- Channel Capacity: 1,000
Here are some basics on effective two-way radio communication, shared by Max Christensen, education program consultant for the Iowa Department of Education's Bureau of School Business Operations:
1. Speak slowly and clearly and in a normal tone, and keep your message simple and easy to understand.
2. Always release the mic switch when finished talking so the other person or persons can then talk.
3. Keep all communications on a professional level as you are likely being monitored by others within the community via scanners.
4. Never mention a student's name and/or address on the radio unless it's absolutely necessary, again because you are likely being monitored by others.
5. Never mention any personal information about a student - such as their ethnic background, medical problems, or disciplinary action, again because of being monitored by others.
6. Did I mention keep all communication on a professional level? Talking about what you did over the weekend is for time around the break table, not for the two-way radio.
7. Learn some basic "radio talk" such as 10-4 for "message received" or "what's your 20" for "what's your location?" Also, "over" (I'm finished), "say again" (please repeat), "stand by" (I acknowledge your message but can't respond now), "go ahead" (I can respond now), "roger" (message received and understood), and "affirmative/negative" (yes/no).