Movin on Up - Equipment Checkout System | Print |
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Written by Phillip L. Harris   

I could use some advice regarding equipment checkout. Currently I have my cameras numbered, and the kids reserve them if they need one not during class. However, during class it’s been a free-for-all, which results in things left all over the place!  I’m tired of being the Momma, and I’m grounding my class from taking cameras during class for the time being, unless they sign them out. So—what is your system, and how pleased are you with it?

I searched for some time for a way to deal with this problem and finally accepted that the primary cause of the problem was I didn’t have enough gear.  So the first step was to concentrate all my purchases toward one goal and repeat that goal as many times as possible.  The goal:
Get enough gear to create a “system.”  I defined a system as:
2 batteries
Charger/AC unit
Camera case
Light kit

Yes, I know this doesn’t include audio – I’ll get to that in a minute.  Once I had enough gear to create a system I added a column to my excel inventory spreadsheet for identifiers and I painted a letter of the alphabet in white paint on every piece in the system.  Prior to painting the letter (which I knew would be scraped off easily accidentally or intentionally) I went to a craft store and purchased an inexpensive electric engraving pen and engraved the letter prominently on the body of the piece of gear.  I also removed a few screws and engraved it on the inside of the body as well (this, I figured would help in identification if the unit was ever stolen and recovered by the police.  It never happened, but I felt better having done it.)  After it was engraved, I used a “paint pen” (craft store again) and went over the engraving with the pen.  Then before the paint dried I gently wiped off the excess and what was left was a neatly painted letter caused by the paint being inside the groove the engraver made.  It would be extremely difficult to get the paint back out of the groove accidentally.

Next step is a secure place to put all the labeled gear.  I obtained some heavy duty gray metal shelves  and put them in my equipment storeroom.  Each “system” fit onto a particular shelf.  When a student checked out gear whether for the hour or for the weekend, the ENTIRE system went with the student.  It was checked by the equipment manager before it left and when it returned for everything being present and in working order.  Each class period had an equipment manager and the job rotated through the entire class.  “Duty” only lasted one day but every time the gear was checked out or turned in the equipment manager of the day had to sign a log so there was complete tracking on who had the gear when.

Now the audio:  There are two types of mics in the classroom – handheld and lapel-style.  Each camera only had 2 mic inputs so no more than two mics were checked out unless there was an odd circumstance where someone was shooting 2 programs over on checkout period and one required hand-held and the other required lapel-style.  Because the mic usage could vary and sometimes all a student checked out was just a single mic to do some audio overdubs, the mics were not included in the “system” concept.  Instead, using the same engraving process, each hand held mic I purchased received a simple number, the first mic was #1, when I retired there were hand-held mics which went to #27 and lapel-style mics that went to #32. 
When I retired I had built up enough gear for there to be ENG systems that went to “N.”  In the three years since I left, I think my replacement (a former student) has built it to “T.”

I never had a problem with power cables and always had plenty of them.  I did purchase a multiple outlet strip and orange extension cord for each system and labeled them with the system letter as well.

Mic cables with XLR’s on either end were a problem.  Every amateur band out there seemed to be supplied by me.  So I started engraving and painting the metal cable ends.  Again I just used a number, with each cable purchased successively getting a higher number.  We probably had 70 mic cables  some most were 25’  some were 50’ and a few were 100’.

If I ever found a piece of gear left out somewhere in the room, it was an easy trace to see who checked it out and didn’t return it.  That person went immediately on a 2 week restriction of all equipment.  Harsh? – absolutely!  But the strongest rule in my class is that no one in the room has the right to affect another person’s grade by being negligent with gear.  Second offense – 1 month restriction.  3rd offense – no equipment for the rest of the year.  You’ll have written work and can pass the class that way.  Not once in 34 years did I hit the 3rd offense punishment! 

I also had a computer program for equipment reservation so students could reserve gear up to two weeks in advance.

Finally, there was an equipment checkout form (attached).  EACH time the equipment was checked out it had to be turned in prior to getting the equipment.  EACH time it had to be signed by a parent agreeing to be “financially responsible for the repair to/replacement of the equipment if it is damaged or lost while in my son/daughter’s charge.”  School board lawyers told me that a blanket permission form good for the entire year was not legal but the individual form per checkout was legal and enforceable in the courts.  I initially didn’t like it because of the paperwork.  But the paperwork was easy to get used to and made it so easy to trace problems, I came to love it!

On the equipment form it was simple to just indicate “system F” and not have to list all the individual components.  Then just put down the numbers of the mics and cables you’re taking.   And right next to the item is the purchase cost of what the kid is taking.  Very sobering for parent and kid.  Very quick to fill out.  Parents got used to it.  Kids got used to it too.
I hope this helps you.

I also like the locking up of equipment according to number, and having someone in charge. How do you delegate that job—rotate? And what are their responsibilities?

Yes, everyone rotates thru the equip. manager job.  Everyone does it for one day.  Duties:
When someone checks out gear:
1.  they hand over the checkout form to the equipment manager.
2. Equip. man. pulls the gear and hands to student
3. Student quickly plugs in and checks that all works properly
4. Equip. man. makes certain that student as all necessary gear and that form is filled out completely
5. Equip. man signs form and places form in appropriate location in equipment storage room.

Not enough time to do all this?  Student doesn’t get the gear.  Student should have planned better to have this all taken care of before the end of the period.  Not the teacher’s job to take over because equipment manager has to leave.  I did, however, often had to perform this job myself when kids came in after school to pick up equipment.  I couldn’t require an equipment manager to stay to do this job. 

If during the period the equipment manager has no “customers,” he/she can clean or straighten up in the storage room, recoil incorrectly coiled cables, etc.,  if necessary, or work on something else (scripting for own projects, etc.).  But he/she remains in the storage room.