A crowd consisting of Tallapoosa County Schools Superintendent Joe Windle, Director of Student Services Casey Davis, Tallapoosa County EMA Director Jason Moran, Chief David Barbour of the Dadeville Police Department and Sheriff Jimmy Abbett among others congregated at the County School Bus Shop Friday morning to watch as Alan Bentley from the Florence-based company nSide demonstrated school bus tracking equipment recently placed on the buses.
Installed on all 46 buses operated by the Tallapoosa County School System, the equipment and accompanying software provide a wealth of information about each individual bus as it makes its daily rounds. Currently, the information boxes on the buses are wireless, but they could be wired in to the bus if desired, according to Bentley.
“With this, you are able to track speed, acceleration, deceleration and even when the door opens and closes,” Bentley said. “We released this in January. The Alabama Institute for the Deaf and Blind was the first to sign on with this, followed by the Tallapoosa County School System.”
Along with being able to track buses, the program offered by nSide allows users to view floor plans of each of the county schools as well as the bus shop. As a security measure, only individuals given the proper designation and authority by the county board will be able to access the program and see the information.
Bentley explained a great deal about the program while also showing a lot of the different features it has on his laptop. During the demonstration, he zoomed in on the map to click on a moving arrow, representing a bus traveling from Horseshoe Bend to the Edward Bell Career Tech Center in Camp Hill. After clicking on the arrow, an information box popped up, stating the time the bus began its journey, the miles it had currently traveled and the speed it was going.
The program also has a weather radar feature, pulling the latest data from the National Weather Service. Bentley said nSide was working on adding alert capabilities to the weather features, but there were currently some bugs being worked out of the system.
“The capability of seeing weather and buses is there,” he said.
Bentley fielded a handful of questions from the assembled group, including Windle asking if the information available was in real time.
“It’s as real time as it gets,” Bentley said. “We ping the device on the bus every five seconds and it gets relayed to the system quickly. There may be a delay of up to about 10 seconds from when it pings to when you see the data.”
Barbour asked how long the data was stored in the program’s system, to which Bentley replied that, since the company had partnered with Google, there was an unlimited amount of cloud storage available, meaning the data could be stored until the school board determined they no longer needed it.
Though the information available could be limited by the central office for other agencies around the county, such as allowing Moran to focus more on the weather and the police and sheriff’s departments to see where a bus is located should the unthinkable happen, everyone felt this was a good investment.
“This incorporates all of you. I think one of the things you will see in Tallapoosa County is the coordination with all of the county agencies,” Windle said. “You can see how this was advantageous to us.”
“We’re very appreciative we’re a part of this,” Abbett said.
While there are still some small issues to be worked out with the program before it becomes the most effective tool it can be, installing the nSide system on Tallapoosa County school buses provides the system with good feedback about the vehicles and the multitude of factors that influence how they are handled on a daily basis.
“We just felt like this was a good investment,” Windle said.