Violence and natural catastrophes have made schools and universities more vigilant about protecting students and staff on their campuses. But students and workers also need to get to and from their schools, and once on a campus, they need to get from one facility to another. So administrators must make sure security is an integral part of their transportation planning. For elementary and secondary schools, transportation security in most cases means a safe bus ride between school and a student's neighborhood; at a college or university, security is more likely to focus on protecting students and staff as they move from place to place on campus.
On the bus
For students in kindergarten through 12th grade, the most common method of transportation is the yellow school bus. Some safety features are simple and familiar, such as a stop arm that extends from a bus to alert vehicles in other lanes that children are getting on or off the bus.
Another mechanical device that has been added to school buses in recent years is a crossing arm. It is designed to prevent people from walking in a driver's blind spot in front of the bus. The arm typically is attached to the front bumper, and when opened, it extends several feet in front of the bus when the door opens The arm forces children getting on or off the vehicle to avoid the blind spot and walk several feet in front of the bus before crossing in front of the vehicle.
Mechanical arms and flashing lights aren't enough to persuade other drivers to follow school bus safety laws. Thousands of vehicles pass by school buses even though extended stop arms signal them to stop.
Technological advancements can help school systems and law enforcement crack down on drivers who ignore stop arms. Buses can be outfitted with exterior cameras that photograph license plates and the faces of drivers that pass a bus.
In addition, school systems can install video systems inside buses to monitor student behavior and deter misconduct. The affordability of digital systems has enabled many schools to replace videotape systems with digital video recorders (DVRs). With a DVR, drivers or staff members do not have to change tapes, and in some setups, authorities can view the video captured on a bus over the Internet.
Another piece of technology that enhances school bus security is a global positioning system (GPS). For school transportation officials, GPS can tell them where their buses are, whether they're taking the right route and whether they're on schedule.
Some security systems also use radio frequency identification (RFID) together with GPS to add another layer of security. Before boarding or getting off a bus, students are required to display ID cards that have RFID tags. The system records when and where a particular student gets on and off a bus.
With sophisticated systems available to bolster bus security, safety advocates are trying to get such features onto more buses. The U.S. Yellow School Bus Project, a project supported by the Points of Light Foundation, is a public-private partnership with a goal of providing interoperable communications, tracking, surveillance and transportation to the nation's school buses as a standby resource for public safety.
The technology the project would like to see on buses include hands free cell phones and radios; digital video recorders (up to four); GPS; and wireless and cellular networking.