Technology changes for school buses have ushered in an entirely new maintenance tool for school bus technicians: the laptop computer. And with it comes not only the need to be trained on the software but guidelines for keeping the expensive equipment clean and in on piece.
For a couple of years now, we’ve reported on how laptops are beginning to make the old mechanic’s toolbox rather obsolete, at least when it comes to diagnosing potential maintenance issues on the school bus. But an issue that has gone under-reported has been what effect introducing laptop computers into the garage have had not only on the techicians but to the equipment itself.
A few years ago while on a separate editorial assignment for another publication, I found myself at the beach reporting on the professional sport of beach volleyball. With my professional background being in sports, I was used to bringing my laptop to games and sitting in the press box, munching on a hot dog and watching the action while I typed notes in preparation for my final article. But, at the beach, it was a whole new ball game, so to speak.
The basic press area was the same complete with tables and chairs for the various reporters in attendance, and there was a complimentary wireless Internet connection and a host of power strips for battery power. But the real difference was the elements. Sand is generally not a good thing for electrical equipment, and at the beach, it gets everywhere, including on and in your laptop. A can of compressed air quickly became my best friend.
So, too, in the school bus garage can the elements present challenges. Not only is there a lot of material that, if spilled, could destroy a computer (think oil or brake fluid), but garages were never designed for such work. It used to be, and not so long ago, that computer work was meant for “the suits” in the office who sat in a nice cushy chair behind a big mahogany desk. But, today, the laptop has taken control of our daily lives, whether you are an accountant, a construction foreman, or a school bus technician. Any number of business rely on computers to not only organize work flow but to diagnose and solve problems. With that, school bus technicians have been forced to design processes for making sure that their computers remain functional.
STN recently surveyed school bus maintenance professionals on a variety of topics, one of them being how they protect laptops in the garage. So far, we’ve received more than 130 responses to the question, ranging from “Be Careful!” to storing them in a locked garage cabinent or checking them out from the school distict’s IT department. Some districts are reporting that they use plastic keyboard covers to limit the amount of damage that can be done by greasy, oily fingers. And some put their laptops in protective cases while technicians lug them around the garage.
One thing’s for sure, in this technology age, laptop usage and storage present one more issue to which school bus operators must pay attention, and the topic of computer safety is a topic for another day. Yet one more area that will require training of employees.