Cheap City Surveillance Case Study

Author: Carlton Purvis, Published on Mar 10, 2013

City surveillance systems often cost huge amounts of money - $10,000 per camera deployed is common. One Pennsylvania city took a different approach spending less than $10,000 for the core network and adding on cameras for just $1,000 each. Unfortunately, this resulted in big problems. In this article, we break down the issues based on interviews with city officials, the integrator involved and a copy of the bids received.

The Setup

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Service ******

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Reliability ******** ****** ** ******

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The ******** ********

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The ************ *****

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Significant *** ******** *******

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Comments (30)

This is the equivalent of a city going to Costco to buy a CCTV kit.

Why would Northeast Remote even take this job? How could they have made any money? Even if they are a relatively small integrator who jumped at the chance to play in the muni leagues, how is this obviously substandard job going to help them continue in this league? Taking on the job at a loss (in hopes of getting future work) only makes any sense if you do good work. duh.

With only 2 bidders, it sounds like the budget was at least indicated and all the real integrators said a collective "yeah, RIGHT!" and declined to bid. Of the 2 who did, at least the losing bidder had some self-respect and bid the job correctly (assumption) and disregarded the stated budget. Basically the same as a "yeah, RIGHT!" response, but with more work involved... (maybe to prove a point?) :)

I particularly love how the CEO of Northeast Remote puffs up talking about all the 'free' work he is doing for the city now. Work, not coincidentally, created by Northeast themselves, by trying to fulfill such a ridiculously low bid.

I was surprised that the huge difference between the bids didn't make the city stop and ask more questions. From the paperwork its looks like they saw the low bid and said, "I'll take it!"

A common red flag is when you see 2 bids - one which is very cheap but no details and the other that is much more expensive but much more detailed. This is a sign that the lower bid is either hiding or missing something. Exactly the case here.

Are the shopowners who enroll in the scheme and fork out $1K for equipment obliged - or heavily encouraged - to use Northeast Remote to install said equipment? Maybe Mr. Maxwell, CEO just made a bad bet based on the chief pushing his ill-devised scheme?

What if the chief convinced Mr. Maxwell, CEO that large numbers of shopowners would sign up, and that Northeast Remote could grab all that install/maintenance revenue to offset the cities budget that, as Carlton points out, would barely cover their hardware costs?

And if the chief is sending Northeast Remote a list of outages three times a day (1 for each shift), who's paying for these truck rolls? No way Northeast could maintain that for free for even a short period of time.

Great reporting guys, I'm really happy to see some follow up on a project like this!

Wow, atleast they realized it wasn't working, and needed more and are NOW spending more money on the system, but wow.

The other problem nobody is discussing is that the city police is writing the RFP themselves. They should hire a consultant, even if it is only to write a performance based specification for the RFP (rather than full design drawings and specs). They would have been better off by far.

Now they are doing the same thing (part two) and still writing the RFP without a consultant.

David, good point. While there are risks finding the right consultant, there are likely more risks with the police simply doing it themselves on something this complicated.

For the relatively small amount of funds spent on a poor foundation, they should chalk the loss up to experience and do it right this time. Start over by stating what they want to achieve and try an open design bid spec. They will get different ways to solve the same problems and the right foundation can at least be put in place by an integrator that has succesfully deployed a city wide surveillance system. From the strong foundation they can build little by little as funds are made available. Providing a parts list to integrators and tell them that is what they have to use is a poor idea at best.

The question is...How do you find a good/ "right consultant"/engineer? There are a lot of cut and past engineers out there (Majority). There are also many engineers that still have a spec in the old school PDF format. This means they probably have not changed a spec in years (If you cannot copy words in spec with your mouse, and it looks old). For the money you can spend on a bad consultant/engineer...you could hire a design/build from a quality integrator with specific knowledge in IP with past experience. But that could create other problems as well. To be an end user...it is a slippery slop to get the best value for the best money. End Users do not see the same specs being used over and over from their end like integrators do. Most Engineers can talk smart when it comes to a subject an end user does not totally know completely. End Users also do not know who all the reliable security integrators available to them. They usually use their long standing integrator based on a legacy relationship or get cornered with an excruciating bid process by purchasing.

"David, good point. While there are risks finding the right consultant, there are likely more risks with the police simply doing it themselves on something this complicated." John H

John said:

> Only two bidders: Many municipalities require at least three bids.

That is a surprise. I wonder if you have any examples of cities with such a policy. It seems like a bad idea. I am at a gov't University and we have no such policy. Bidding opportunities must be publicly advertised. What that means varies by jurisdiction. It might mean using a notice in a newspaper, or it might mean posting on a purchasing web site where suppliers have been invited to subscribe to notices. Here's a sample muni purchasing code that reads like what I describe.

The problem with requiring a fixed number of responses is that we have no control over who bids. Why should a well-advertised project get stopped because there was only a single bidder if everything else is OK? I look forward to seeing examples of cities with the policy you describe.

Thx

Jim, thanks for a great question / comment.

To your question, "Why should a well-advertised project get stopped because there was only a single bidder if everything else is OK?"

The problem is, it's hard to know if everything else is OK with a single bidder. Does that mean there is some conspiracy between the purchaser and the single bidder that has blocked out all other suppliers? Is the purchaser really getting the best price or is that single bidder gouging the buyer?

Getting 3 bids is a common way of minimizing those risks.

As for specific examples, in my own practical experience, I found it incredibly common, both in the public and private sector. It's certainly not the only way to do things but it's a frequent one.

I wholeheartedly agree the city needs a consultant and or a design build vendor to accomplish this task or they will be in the same situation they are in now but a little poorer.

I read this to believe individual businesses are buying the cameras for a group rate of 1K each and the business gets the added advantage of recording said camera on their existing DVR/NVR/VCR. If this is correct, the problem may in fact be with the dual video and data amplification (or lack thereof) splitting it to various termination points.

Every city, education facility, government agency we have bid projects on has had a three bid or more clause and they usually have another clause that states they do not have to take the lowest bidder.

This particular topic strikes a nerve with me. I recently ran across an opportunity similar to this competing against a company called (Censored) Communications.

Essentially providing a communications backbone to 2 or 3 municipal locations (Police, City Hall and Public Works). This company used the same selling points that other small business would also agree to adding cameras and this would subsidize the installation – and local business would be subject to reoccurring data / storage fees. (Censored) went into the municipality and quoted them 5 PTZ cameras installed for a total of 10K.

We tried to explain what we assumed they were doing and provided the customer with some questions to ask and potential pitfalls. We quoted them verbally 10K per camera using Fluid wireless and Axis cameras with our VMS solution.

Unfortunately (for me!), they went with the cheaper solution. I will give it another few weeks and reach back out to see how that’s working out for them…. I'll report back to the group.

Edit: To remove company specific information.

That's not too kind to hang a company, by name, if the solution they are implementing has not currenty failed.

Here's a link for the Portage, MI school district that did use a consultant when they decided to install cheap crap and now have to upgrade only a few years later ----> LINK.

Again, 1 of only 2 choices they considered [2nd choice more expensive], though no mention of the bidding process.

Note: Original total budget - $29K; Proposed new expenditure - $450K

Marty, wow, what a social media fail. Do you know what 'cheap crap' they installed a few years ago? :)

I'm confused. I read that article as the total original budget was $450k, not the proposed new expenditure. The proposal to upgrade the software to whatever more "robust" version was the $29k part. That actually doesn't seem so bad for upgrading 14 buildings.

well, I'm no detective, but based on your question I can assume it may be a product I am intimately familiar with? :) I looked to see if it was mentioned, but really didn't look any further.

My reference to cheap crap was merely a colorful illustration of how it was represented by the dude who wished he had spent more on the initial install. :)

My reference stands, even if it was an admitted #FAIL on my part - to remove it would be disingenuous. And now that I just saw Ethans comment, maybe I was completely wrong altogether.

Can't hit home runs every time you step into the batters box :)

Marty et al. stay tuned for some more info on that Portage upgrade. Ethan, you're right the original budget for the whole system was $450k - cameras, software, installation, everything.

Carlton's been investigating this and we'll release a post shortly, actually that mostly defends a manufacturer you might now.

Remember though:

wow... I just reread it and Ethan (and Carlton) is right. Looks like the feature set that was recommended just didn't turn out to be a good fit for what they eventually determined they needed RE: growth, etc.

I will let my posts stand as a deterent to others who might post something equally as dumb by not reading what they are referring to very well. or, seemingly, at all.

In my FACE! :(

$9,500 wouldnt even pay for the design, let alone the system

Ron, you'd don't run any specials, do you? :)

For you, $9,499

Has anyone looked into or contacted the company SkyCop?

I am in the city of Toledo, OH and they have been installing many cameras around the city. I am told that the cameras all have DVRs in the boxes on poles and will connect via Wireless(Ubiquiti), local fiber, or cellular point-to-point. The electrician I know installed many of them and the utility company connected power to the units. He made a comment about many problems with the wireless transmission which led me to inquire about the issues. I think a lot had to do with line of site and with interference.

The cameras in our city look to be Dahua PTZ cameras with the dual IR. From the video footage I have seen, they all look like they are SD. I doubt they are MP. The construction of the mounting solution and outdoor boxes are pretty solid. The city also has two of the mobile trailer style units. I haven't seen or interacted with the backend system to see how easy it is to use.

Kyle - are you still in the industry and in Toledo?

Yes I am in the industry and still in Toledo. After reading my post again I realized I had found they were all Hikvision as opposed to Dahua. We have used a similar blue light for clients that want that same look as the "police cameras." I believe the license plate reader was a Genetec or similar.

Kyle, thanks for sharing. I created a discussion about SkyCop here.

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