The Indiana State Police is beta testing a new Web app to help streamline school bus inspections in the state.

Each year, Indiana inspects “school and activity purpose” buses, about 17,000 vehicles in all. For buses that are more than 12 years old, inspections are completed twice a year. The inspections, conducted by 19 officers throughout the state, help to ensure that the condition of a bus’s various parts meet state and federal  safety regulations, said Sgt. Steve Whitaker of the Indiana State Police.  

In years past, the troopers responsible for conducting inspections did so by marking off a checklist on paper forms, and then manually re-entered the checklist into a database, Whitaker said. The paper-based process was cumbersome, Whitaker said, because Indiana requires that bus inspections start in January and are completed by the end of September.

So to reduce officer staff hours dedicated to inspections and streamline the inspection process, the Indiana State Police began working in July 2010 with a computer class at IUPUI — Indiana University, Purdue University Indianapolis.

“The class took it on as a project,” Whitaker said. “We got picked, and they worked through this for a semester and identified a lot of things, and set the stage.”

The class came up with the idea of a Web app for bus inspections, which the state police then presented in December to Indiana Interactive, the subsidiary of e-government provider NIC USA, which manages the state’s Web services.

Although the app is still in the pilot stage, Whitaker said it is operational and now in use by the 19 officers throughout Indiana who are responsible for the bus inspections.

To better suit the officers’ needs, the app was developed to run on BlackBerry PlayBook tablets, said Sloane Wright, general manager of Indiana Interactive. Through a collaborative effort among the Indiana State Police, Indiana Interactive and the Indiana Office of Technology, the three entities were able to help secure grant funding so that each of the 19 inspectors could get a tablet, which they received in December.

“All of these inspectors are utilizing the system, and they’ve put the paper system in their trunks,” Wright said. “We’re just trying to make sure we’ve worked through all of the scenarios and use cases that we may want to add or enhance. We’ve approached this as a living, breathing thing.”

The app digitized the inspection checklist, but it also functions as a dashboard indicating which officer is doing what inspections. Buses that don’t pass on the first inspection must be re-inspected on a later date, so information regarding a bus’s failed inspection also is logged in the system.

“If a bus is marked as ‘rejected’ or ‘out of service,’ different timelines are associated with that bus when they have to be revisited and relooked at,” Wright said. “So now the system does that automatically for them.”

Through the dashboard, officers can see when other officers need assistance, or if fellow officers are out sick or on vacation. The dashboard can help the officers coordinate, Wright said.

Whitaker will soon have on-demand access to the data that’s inputted. Users will be able to break down the data into categories such as school districts, schools and model year of the bus, Wright said.

For better tracking, the state police built quick response (QR) code functionality into the application. QR codes are black and white matrix-shaped surfaces that can be scanned. The state police is in the process of attaching QR codes to each of the buses, which are then tracked through the app. Whitaker said by Sept. 30, all buses that get inspected by the police will have to be affixed with a QR code.

Although the state hasn’t determined yet what the ROI will be for the new inspection system, Whitaker said he expects the state will realize significant savings in reduced paper and staff time costs.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.