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Published in Print: May 5, 1999, as Take Note

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Take Note

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Putting parents on notice

Melissa Stuckey likes the idea of standing on the edge of technology, especially if it keeps her 5-year-old from missing the school bus.

Ms. Stuckey is one of several dozen parents who have helped test BusCall, a new system that aims to make missing the bus a thing of the past.

Employing the same satellite technology used to guide aircraft and boats, BusCall can track the location of school buses on their route.

The system places an automated phone call to parents to notify them that the school bus is approaching. BusCall is provided as a service through local telephone companies and paid for by parents who choose to subscribe. Parents can designate the amount of notification time they receive, usually five to 15 minutes.

"You could set your watch to it," Ms. Stuckey said of the system. Her daughter, Emily, attends Scenic Heights Elementary School in the Escambia school district in Pensacola, Fla. The 800-student school tested BusCall from January to March.

Ms. Stuckey said that before she used BusCall, she usually had to drive her kindergartner to school at least once a week when Emily missed the bus. During the time the family volunteered to use the system, her daughter never missed the school bus.

The benefits of the system are twofold: safety of schoolchildren and fleet management, said David Hall, the president of NotiCom llc, the company that developed and markets BusCall. The Destin, Fla.-based company is a joint venture of LaBarge Inc. and Global Research Systems Inc.

The system keeps children safe from the hazards of weather, traffic, and strangers, said Mr. Hall, adding that "the less time a child spends at the bus stop, the safer the child is going to be."

In addition, he said, district bus dispatchers are able to know the precise location of buses.

The system is being marketed to local phone companies, which would in turn offer the service to parents for an estimated $9.95 a month. In general, the service would cost school districts nothing, Mr. Hall said.

NotiComhas signed contracts with the Marshall, Minn., and Bangor, Maine, districts for BusCall. The Marshall schools are in the process of signing up parents; Bangor is still installing equipment.

The BusCall system could be the ultimate safety device, said Jerry Caine, the director of operations for the Escambia district, which operates 360 buses a day.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Vol. 18, Issue 34, Page 3

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