Taking a Clear Picture: Bus Video Maintenance

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School district transportation director discusses the importance of including bus video systems as a regular maintenance item.

dan schultzDan SchultzI started running cameras on school buses in 2001, working with 8mm systems and, in 2005, with some of the first digital systems. During this time, I participated in Iowa state experimental programs, trying to use them to document red runners. This program used mobile cameras that could be rotated around the state from location to location. I worked with several districts installing them, and this allowed me to see firsthand the many details that prevented the idea from taking off, but I watched as some districts individually started their own projects.

System maintenance is usually one of the last things districts consider when looking to implement a camera recording system. I have encouraged the districts that I have worked for to figure out the needs they’ll have in maintaining the systems. I find that overlooking this initial consideration is detrimental to the long term benefits of the systems and can give districts a real headache down the road.

The advice I give to districts about recording systems is to think strategically and to plan ahead. Just like any other item on a bus, cameras are machines and they do fail at times, just the same as a heater fan or other items. What are your options for repairing recorders, cameras, cables and software?

Having a non-functioning camera system on the bus may not meet the out-of-service criteria in your state, but drivers and students deserve to have a system that works. As such, camera systems must be placed on a preventive maintenance schedule just as any other item. The liability the schools and/or contractors are under should be reason enough to make sure they are functioning.

We have placed the systems on both our half-service and full-service schedules. It is a simple test: The mechanic hooks up a laptop to the system and checks if it has recorded properly over the last few days. Other malfunction reports come from drivers performing pre-trip inspections and checking that indicator lights are working. The last line of defense should be the transportation staff or law enforcement who are downloading the videos.

Mechanics place the emphasis on repairing a recording system as with any other Out of Service item; we even will substitute a bus working systems on to the route. By making this a key system to repair, we carry replacement parts on stock. I have heard of other schools making vendors stock parts for a quick turnaround, but having the inventory easily accessible in some way, shape or form is the key. Our inventory includes a 10 percent inventory for hard drives and recorders, while we keep a 2-percent inventory on camera bodies and cables.

Keeping an inventory is important to reducing repair and warranty turnaround times, since I have yet to work at a school district that has an electronic repair department. Turnaround time for repairs that are sent out need to be factored into your inventory figures. These factors change depending on your location and / or service from your vendor.

Make sure you have a discounted price or program for updating old systems to a new system; this will help you stay current with the technology changes. The last thing you want to do is invest money and two or three years from now the whole system is obsolete.

Shultz is the transportation director for Southeast Polk Community School District in Pleasant Hill, Iowa. Prior to joining the student transportation industry, he was director of purchasing at United Airlines. He can be contacted at daniel.schultz@southeastpolk.org.