A Constant Eye on Events: Video Systems on School Buses

With budget and resource constraints, fleet operators may not have compelling reasons to invest in real-time, continuous loop video on school buses. As technology develops with speed and lower prices, opportunities are improving to install video systems for real-time intelligence on school buses. 

Video helps operators monitor activity inside and outside of the bus, and it is used to reveal events ranging from bullying to accidents. New technologies automate video downloads to remote servers via a Wi-Fi connection. The video downloads can be configured manually or automatically through pre-set parameters, such as when bus doors open or alarms go off.

“When a serious incident happens on a school bus it often gets media attention and school transportation staff scramble to answer questions about what happened and how it may have been prevented,” said Lori Jetha, marketing communications manager at Seon. “Live streaming video and real-time data are effective for assessing situations.”

Frisco Independent School District in Texas used to have one staff member dedicated to manually locate and watch video recordings of incidents on more than 250 buses. When a request came in for video clips, the employee traveled to one of three bus lots to retrieve the footage, making it cumbersome during emergencies and sensitive investigations.

For better control of its fleet, Frisco ISD upgraded to a video system with five interior cameras, mobile digital recorder and wireless access on the buses. All downloaded video is stored on a shared central server, which authorized users can access from different locations. Using Seon’s vMax Commander video management software, the transportation staff can log in from anywhere to view video footage for incident investigations. Frisco ISD downloads video and vehicle data every time the buses return to the yard, helping the district create an indexed library for immediate and remote access. 

“We don`t waste time searching for video anymore. It is essential for us to have access to video when we need it. Now that we have everything under control with video on board, we can focus on increasing student safety and managing the fleet efficiently,” said Doug Becker, Transportation Director at Frisco ISD.

On-Demand Video Goes

School buses with interior and exterior cameras linked to real-time monitoring technologies have the ability to mark video of the incidents, as a way to catch and prosecute violators who endanger students. 

Marking video can be done manually or automatically. When bus drivers want to index an incident, they push a button to record the event. The video footage is downloaded via Wi-Fi, either in real-time with a live connection or upon returning to bus yards. Through automated systems, cameras start recording upon erratic signals on the bus, such as speeding, swerving or hard braking. 

Video management software also allows bus operators to locate video by highlighting the location of an incident on GPS maps that display all vehicles. With a few clicks on the map, users can pinpoint the start- and end-points for a video download. 

“If you’re a transportation director, you’re having to try to understand what happened and investigate events all the time. In the old days, it was a he said-she said scenario, making it hard to understand what was true. That’s not the case anymore with video marking,” said Robert Scott, vice president of 247Security, Inc.

Districts are also justifying video systems to catch drivers who pass school buses at a stop.

The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation estimates that vehicles pass stopped school buses over 13 million times a year. The violators put students at risk of injury and death, as they try to cross the street. At least 15 states now allow cameras outside of school buses to record drivers passing illegally, as well as capture plate numbers and vehicle makes.

In Kentucky, it is illegal to pass a stopped school bus in either direction on a two-lane road if the warning lights are on. The Jefferson County School District in Kentucky had enough of the violations. 

In 2014, the county became an early adaptor of real-time monitoring technology, using a customized system that intertwined technologies from 247 Security and Transfinder.  No longer would employees use labor-intensive processes to investigate incidents by physically locating the bus and manually downloading video from the vehicle’s hard drive. 

With more than 1,400 buses and a network of 11 bus yards, the county school district invested in sensors, interior-exterior cameras, Wi-Fi systems, and a GPS tracking system. When drivers pass a stopped school bus, cameras record the incident. A public service campaign warned Kentucky drivers with billboards reading, “It’s not just a stop sign. It’s a child’s life.”

Other districts increasingly are using side-mounted cameras alongside stop arms, as a way to identify vehicles that pass buses at loading zones. Since 1999, North Carolina had 14 students killed at bus stops. In March, North Carolina state lawmakers voted in favor of allowing counties to operate school bus stop-arm cameras, as a way to protect students. In April, Stokes County Schools in North Carolina became the latest district to add cameras to 15 buses, in hopes of capturing violators.

“This will hopefully deter folks from running stop arms. Our goal is always safety first so that’s what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Brad Lankford, Director of Transportation for the school system.

Video in Smarter Cities

School buses are increasingly becoming part of the safety ecosystem that’s emerging for smart cities, where cameras, sensors, and Wi-Fi hot spots are creating surveillance for entire communities. 

According to Vice President Frank Gazeley, Transfinder launched its education technology services 28 years ago with its first customer in New York, the Schenectady School district. Coincidentally, the company just gained its first municipal customer, the City of Schenectady, which transferred GPS technology and cameras from school buses to a fleet of snowplows last winter. It was all serendipitous.

“The city’s demonstration of our technology on snow plows occurred during a blizzard,” said Gazeley, who indicated there were 100 cameras installed on the snowplows for the event. “They could see the plows (on a Transfinder GPS map), and it helped residents know when the plows were coming to their streets.”

Part of a smart city initiatives, the demonstration showed how technology can increase the efficiency of snowplows, garbage trucks and other city vehicles.

“Cameras and video will soon be everywhere, capturing events that can be used by law enforcement,” echoed Antonio Civitell, Transfinders chief executive officer. “Schools are becoming an element of smart cities.”

Reprinted from the May 2017 issue of School Transportation News magazine.

Last modified onTuesday, 02 May 2017 13:14