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GPS Technology Aids School-Bus Safety

By | August 2, 2004

      The San Francisco Unified School District recently upgraded its transportation security with the help of San Diego, Calif.-based Satellite Security Systems (S3). S3, a provider of asset tracking and control for commercial and government organizations, implemented its GlobalGuard and Virtual Perimeter technology in 220 San Francisco school buses that carry approximately 7,500 students on a daily basis.

      Based on Global Positioning System (GPS) and ReFLEX satellite communication technology, S3’s GlobalGuard system allows school officials to constantly monitor not only the position of each bus but when the doors open or close and when the engines are turned on or off. The GlobalGuard remote terminal unit (RTU) attaches to and interfaces with the school bus (the asset to be tracked), and then it interacts with three different satellites that determine the bus’s location by calculating the RTU’s latitude, longitude and altitude.

      S3 provides its asset tracking services for a wide range of clients throughout the United States, Mexico and Canada, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Secret Service, the California Department of Justice, the Texas State Police, Coca-Cola, British Petroleum, Siemens International and now to school districts.

      Through S3’s Virtual Perimeter technology, San Francisco school officials were able to create distinct zones outside of which the buses are not able to travel without sending an alert signal. S3’s 24-hour Monitoring and Support Center (MSC) is staffed with trained professionals who are prepared to respond to emergency situations. If a school bus suddenly deviates from its normal route, MSC staff members will first notify San Francisco school officials of the situation, and then they will contact local law-enforcement officials if necessary. School officials also have the option of monitoring bus-driver performance, including compliance with speed regulations.

      The San Francisco Unified School District opted to upgrade from an older GPS security system to the new technology to provide improved safety for students and to have a system with greater growth potential. For example, San Francisco school buses are not currently equipped to enable wireless communication between the school buses and S3’s MSC, but the technology is available for future implementation.

      Another possible extension of S3’s GlobalGuard technology involves an on-bus card-swipe system that immediately provides the name, identification number and other pertinent data of every student who boards each bus. The card system would allow school officials to know exactly which students are onboard a bus that has deviated from its route and to inform parents of the exact location of children traveling to and from school.

      S3 has been working with District of Columbia Public Schools for the past two years to establish a school-bus security program that will include the onboard card-swipe technology, said John Phillips, the company’s CEO. S3 was hired by the District to help with a range of logistical difficulties school officials were facing, including inefficient route plans, the late arrival of the majority of students on buses, and the loss of federal revenues due to an inability to track and process Medicaid filings.

      The District of Columbia’s rollout of the service is expected during the upcoming fall semester. Use of the technology should generate revenues that will exceed its initial cost of deployment. In fact, the District officials estimate GlobalGuard will allow the collection of about $10.1 million in additional federal revenues during the first two years of implementation.

      –Tonya Oben

      (John Phillips, Satellite Security Systems, 619/574-1452)

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