That can be especially useful in dealing with com-

plaints or disputes. “We find that in the course of our investigations and use of video from buses, sound has become an invaluable factor in determining what may have actually happened onboard or outside the bus,” Creach reported. “It can help to isolate a series of criti- cal events, that may have been the catalyst for a serious event that has to be addressed.” Reliability is especially important, according to Mann.

“There’s nothing worse than having a parent ask for vid- eo, only to find the chip wasn’t working,” he added. Investing in high-quality equipment can help in

avoiding such problems. He recalled one incident, where a camera provided a court-ready document on the spot. “It’s nice to have video in hand that’s admissible in court,” he observed. Installation quality is another consideration. “The installation of many of these systems is a big

deal,” Ott relayed. “So many installers out there do not know what they’re doing when it comes to cameras in school buses. This is an area where many deals go bad because the bid includes installation and the vendor cuts corners to save money.” In evaluating vendors, Ott said it pays to probe on

capabilities, such as knowing where best to place cam- eras as well as handling multiplex wiring and ensuring proper grounding. While analysis of specific features makes sense, it’s the

overall combination that counts. “We looked at specifi- cations but found out that many times it’s not just one component but the entire system that matters. You can own the best camera with a low-quality DVR and not get the image you want,” he said. Ott and his staff found the best approach to evaluating a

video system is to perform an actual installation on a bus and then watch the footage. After taking that step, they decided on a large 1TB hard drive to store the amount of footage generated by nine cameras in a 40-foot bus. Of course, cost is a vital part of any overall analysis.

Finding the right balance between cost and value is im- perative, Rice noted. “Price and being fiscally responsible is always import-

ant,” he added. “However, service after the sale, reliability and long-term costs are key takeaways to any capital purchase that we make.” Creach pointed out that most comparable video sys- tems are priced about the same. “Performance, reliability, reputation and service after

the sale are our key issues for purchasing video record- ing systems,” he said. And focusing too much on economy can be a mistake. “A lot of it is price point, but we don’t go low bid,” Mann

22 School Transportation News • APRIL 2020

said. “I look at what will serve our needs.” That includes both functionality and good service from suppliers. “Knowing they will respond is vital,” he added.

Careful Decision-Making While proper equipment selection can be time-con- suming, it will be worth the effort. The process, opinions and experiences of others can be especially helpful, Creach shared. “Sometimes a problem, or a performance or support

condition that was unforeseen, can easily be explained or corroborated with peers that may have similar experience,” he explained. “The word of mouth from other users and peers, good or bad, is an exponential multiplier in the video recorder business.” Mann advised to not simply obtain information from

suppliers but also spend time with vendors to build re- lationships. “You can discuss problems and learn what’s happening in the industry,” he suggested. He said he also encourages networking with other

directors and administrators. “Going and sitting on their buses is a good practice,” he said. In-house input can be similarly useful. “Feedback from the employees that will utilize the sys- tem daily is key,” Rice said. “They want to be able to use software that is easy to maneuver, and that helps them get their job done.” Once decisions have been made and equipment is in hand, staying on top of camera performance is essential. “We review our video systems annually to determine

the efficiency, reliability and quality of the recorders and video product that we’re receiving from the video units on a daily basis,” Creach said. If staff finds that a recorded video is not functioning

properly or the quality and resolution are simply not acceptable, they replace the unit. “Due to the rapid changes in the video recording tech-

nology world, we always buy the latest technology when we buy new buses and we retire the older buses and their obsolete video systems,” he added. All things considered, it’s hard to argue with a com-

mitment to hands-on evaluation. “If you view all the bids out there in our industry, they

all look the same,” Ott observed. “We’re not camera ex- perts, nor are we DVR and recording equipment experts.” He noted that while anyone can write a document

that says video systems meet a certain requirement, that doesn’t make the information factual. “The old saying that the proof is in the pudding is so

true when it comes to this equipment,” Ott conclud- ed. “Take the time to actually compare your video side by side, and you will see which systems are better.” ●

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