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Cellular provides safety net for New Jersey handicapped.

Assuring the safety of a thousand disabled students as they are transported over the busy highways of New Jersey is not an easy logistical or management challenge.

The State of New Jersey wanted a way to provide two-way communications for a fleet of 200 buses used to transport the severely disabled and physically handicapped students to and from their daytraining centers throughout the Garden State.

For more than two years, a parents group had lobbied state officials to equip the buses with radios or cellular phones to be used to contact police or emergency medical services in the event of an accident or other emergency.

In the past, if a student became ill on a bus, it set off a frantic search for a phone to call for help. Often, the buses travel through rural areas where phones are not readily available, potentially making the communications devices a matter of life or death.

"It was clear our bus drivers needed access to instant communication with emergency services," said Lee B. Berkey, special assistant to New Jersey's Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD).

"What would be an inconvenience for other buses, like a flat tire on a hot or cold day, could prove tragic for a DDD bus. These kids are prone to seizures. Some can't swallow. Some can't blink. They're medically frail."

Beginning in October 1989, the state started to investigate a number of options for the buses, including two-way radio and cellular phones. State officials initially stated a preference for two-way radio over cellular, but were eventually convinced that cellular would be more suited for the special requirements.

Among the cellular's advantages is the ability of the bus driver to contact a parent directly in an emergency.

"Surprisingly, cellular is costing us less than half of what two-way radios were going to run," said Berkey. "Two-way radios were going to cost $400,000 compared to the $180,000 we spent on the transportable phones."

Since November 1990, cellular phones have been providing the vital link between the bus driver and other on-bus staff, emergency services and parents. To expedite calls, phones have been preprogrammed to dial specific numbers such as the day-training center, police and ambulance.

"These phones are an absolute necessity for pupil safety. They put parents' minds at ease knowing help is available almost immediately," said Helen Steinberg, president, New Jersey Day Training Coalition.

"Time is precious during emergencies."

Since the state leases many of its buses, all the phones are transportable, so they can be moved from one bus to another. If the vehicle is down for service, the phone is transferred to another bus. Each bus is equipped with a mirror-mount antenna.

Should an emergency require immediate evacuation from the bus, the phone can be removed from the bus and operated from its own internal battery pack.

"I know having these phones will make the drivers feel a lot more comfortable because they can call for help immediately," said Lois Essex, head driver, Burlington County Day Training Center.

Bell Atlantic Mobile went to each of the state's DDD bus depots to install the antennas on-site. The company also provided on-site training for the more than 200 bus drivers and administrators, teaching each of them how to operate the phones.

Though most organizations purchasing large quantities of cellular phones have productivity as their primary incentive, this transaction was an exception. When Bell Atlantic Mobile Systems sold nearly 200 transportable phones and 245 cellular antennas to the state, they did so without a profit motive and no sales quotas.

The bottom line was to avoid disaster.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Nelson Publishing
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Copyright 1991 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Cellular and Two-way Radio
Publication:Communications News
Date:Apr 1, 1991
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