Over the last few weeks a few new encrypted talkgroups on the SEGARRN system have become active, and I think they’re being used by the Savannah-Chatham Public School System school buses. Sporadic activity was noted prior to the start of the 2013/2014 school year but on the first day of school, activity on these talkgroups exploded. On the first day of school, talkgroups 885 and 883 because quite busy (talkgroup 887 may also be related to 885 and 883), particularly during the morning and afternoon hours. At that time, I had a hunch that it might have been school buses but I due things going on in my family I didn’t have time to pursue it. On my way back into Savannah last Friday, a school bus happened to pull up next to me at a red light; through the door, what appeared to be a new Motorola radio was visible on the dash. That made be remember the heavy activity on talkgroups 885 and 883 from the first day of school, so I started looking closely at other SCCPSS school buses that I saw in traffic; I noticed each of them had a 700/800 MHz antenna on the roof right at the front of the bus. When I got home, one of the first things I did was program the VHF frequencies that the school buses used before into one of the scanners that computer logs. No activity was noted throughout the day. According to news reports, SCCPSS/First Student have 350 school buses, 391 individual radio IDs have been noted on talkgroups 885 and 883. All of this just seems too coincidental for the school buses to not be using the SEGARRN system now, so the best conclusion is that they have moved from VHF to SEGARRN.
I’m sure that there would be some folks in Chatham County, that if they were aware of this apparent move, would be furious that the school system spent money to move to a new radio system, particularly using encrypted channels. On the surface it might seem to be a waste of money for a school system that frequently complains of being strapped for cash but if you look deeper at the move it makes sense. Besides being used to transport students to and from school, the buses would be an integral part of any major evacuation from Chatham County (as we saw during the evacuation for Hurricane Floyd). When being used for that purpose, it would make sense that you would want the buses on the same radio system as the public safety and emergency management agencies in the area in order to ease interoperability. As far as their day-to-day operating channels being encrypted; I’m sure if asked, the school board’s response would be that it is to protect the identity of the students (I don’t defend or reject this explanation, I just present it). With that in mind, I don’t begrudge the money spent to equip the buses with the new equipment; I wouldn’t be surprised if it was done with money from a federal grant.