Cheap City Surveillance Case Study

By: 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

The Hazleton, PA project began in 2010 to allow businesses to join a monitoring system owned by the city, but regular outages have the police drafting an RFP for a system overhaul. The city paid $9,500 for “antennas, software, monitors and network video recorder,” from Northeast Remote Surveillance and Alarm (see the city's contract). Businesses could buy $1,000 kits, which included a camera and a transmitter that would connect them to a control room at the police station. To reduce bandwidth, the cameras would only record and transmit when they sensed motion. 

According to the integrator, the entire setup was customized at each location using Ubiquiti Networks transmitters (on 5 GHz or 3.65 GHz frequencies) and 1.3 to 3 MP cameras on the outside of their facility. Each location was able to use its own recorder. 

The businesses connect to the police department using a dedicated wireless link instead of a VPN /wired network. Cameras that faced internal areas at the police station or the jail would use VPNs, Northeast said, but all of the cameras on Hazleton’s public-private network faced outdoor, public places. 

Service Issues

The system's problems came from interference with nearby wireless networks, the Standard-Speaker reported, citing the police chief. Outages are common, and there is no way for end users or the police monitoring the cameras to make sure the cameras are transmitting correctly.

The system has enough outages that police log the incidents and notify the manufacturer after each shift. 

Reliability Problems Blamed on Budget

Keith Maxwell, CEO of Northeast Remote Surveillance and Alarm, says the company has completed similar projects for surrounding cities, but the Hazleton’s budget for the project is what limited the city’s options for better equipment. 

Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News
Get Notified of Video Surveillance Breaking News

While bigger cities like Wilkes-Barre and Allentown have the funds to install million dollar systems, Hazleton is working with a considerably smaller budget. Says Maxwell, “Their expectations are a little high for what they’re willing to spend. You can't buy a Nissan and expect it to handle like a Bentley."

“They wanted a setup but we had to keep it affordable. The problem is that they don’t have the money. So the service agreement will run out and they don’t have the money to continue the service agreement,” Maxwell said. The work he’s done recently on Hazleton’s system has been for free, he says. 

The Contract Analyzed

IPVM obtained the contract and bid results from the city, which raised a number of issues:

  • Only two bidders: Many municipalities require at least three bids.
  • Massive differential between the two bidders: The winning bid, at $9,500, was 63% less than the loser, at $26,055. This is a warning sign of problems, often that one bidder went with far lower quality components or missed something in the specification.
  • The 'RFP' was simply a bullet list of items without any details or explanation about the desired system. This frequently leads to confusion and omissions as bidders can interpret the request far differently.
  • The winning bid looks far too low for the items listed. For instance, the $9,500 winning bid included a 32 channel 12TB NVR, wireless equipment, 65" monitor and installation. It would be hard to buy the materials alone at that price, nevermind reselling and installing them.

The Architecture Flaws

Beyond the contractual issues, the design choices raise obvious concerns:

  • While Ubiquiti wireless is popular and respected for point to point links, using this for even a small city wide project is bound to create interference issues, almost by design. Even if each link would work on its own, scaling up many businesses increase risk and probability of failure.
  • Depending on basic camera motion detection, especially for detecting events outside, is problematic. The likelihoods for nuisance motion detection is quite high, making it hard to rely on those inputs.

Significant New Spending Planned

Now, the Hazleton police chief is developing an RFP for a system to enhance the existing system. The new system would need to be user-friendly enough that it could be run and maintained by city employees and will have around-the-clock monitoring and recording capability, he said. The city hopes the RFP will be complete by mid-March. The city is setting aside $85,000 for the upgrade.

Comments (30) : Members only. Login. or Join.

Related Reports

2020 IP Networking Book Released on Jan 06, 2020
The new IP Networking Book 2020 is a 280 page in-depth guide that teaches you how IT and telecom technologies impact modern security systems,...
Casino Surveillance Pro Interview: James Lathrop on Feb 15, 2019
James Lathrop [link no longer available] has been working in casinos for almost 25 years. During that time, he says he has held "just about every...
Police Department Surveillance Manager Interview on Feb 28, 2019
Former Memphis PD Surveillance Manager, Lt. Joseph Patty retired months ago, but kept busy during his decades on the force, working to build up...
Large US University End-User Video Surveillance Interview on Mar 18, 2019
Schools have become targets in modern days of active shooters and terrorist fears. The need for video and access security is high. Universities...
Large Hospital Security End User Interview on Mar 21, 2019
This large single-state healthcare system consists of many hospitals, and hundreds of health parks, private practices, urgent care facilities, and...
City Physical Security Manager Interview on Mar 14, 2019
This physical security pro is the Physical Security Manager for the City of Calgary. He is a criminologist by training with an ASIS CPP credential....
Casino Security Consultant Carl Lindgren Interview on Mar 26, 2019
For more than 20 years, Carl Lindgren [link no longer available] worked as a casino surveillance pro, while being active (and sometimes outspoken)...
Verkada Wins $783,000 Memphis Deal on Apr 29, 2019
The US city, most famous in video surveillance for standardizing on Hikvision, has issued an RFQ for 962 Verkada cameras due Wednesday, May 1,...
Mining Company Security Manager Interview on May 10, 2019
First Quantum Minerals Limited (FQML) is a global enterprise with offices on 4 continents and operations in 7 countries with exploratory operations...
Manufacturer Favorability Guide 2019 on Jun 12, 2019
The 259 page PDF guide may be downloaded inside by all IPVM members. It includes our manufacturer favorability rankings and individual...

Most Recent Industry Reports

Dahua CEO Is Out on Feb 28, 2020
Dahua CEO Li Ke has resigned less than 3 years after he was brought in from Huawei to professionalize management. Inside this note, we examine...
Hazardous & Explosion Proof Access Control Tutorial on Feb 27, 2020
Controlling access to hazardous environments requires equipment meeting specific ratings that certify they will not start fires or will not...
Motorola / Avigilon Drops ISC West on Feb 26, 2020
Motorola Solutions has pulled out of ISC West 2020 effective immediately, because of coronavirus concerns, IPVM has learned. This is done amidst...
Cancel or Not? Industry Split Over ISC West on Feb 26, 2020
The industry is split, polarized, over whether ISC West 2020 should run or be canceled. New IPVM survey results of 400+ respondents show heated...
Coronavirus Hits Sony, Bosch Says Switch on Feb 26, 2020
Sony's fall in video surveillance has been severe over the past decade. Now, they may be done. In this note, we examine Bosch's new...
Video Surveillance Cameras 101 on Feb 25, 2020
Cameras come in many shapes, sizes and specifications. This 101 examines the basics of cameras and features used in 2020. In this report, we...
Favorite Video Analytic Manufacturers 2020 on Feb 25, 2020
Video analytics is now as hot as ever, driven by the excitement of advancing deep learning offers. But what are actually integrator's...
Latest London Police Facial Recognition Suffers Serious Issues on Feb 24, 2020
On February 20, IPVM visited another live face rec deployment by London police, but this time the system was thwarted by technical problems and...
Masks Cause Major Facial Recognition Problems on Feb 24, 2020
Coronavirus is spurring an increase in the use of medical masks, which new IPVM test results show cause major problems for facial recognition...
Every VMS Will Become a VSaaS on Feb 21, 2020
VMS is ending. Soon every VMS will be a VSaaS. Competitive dynamics will be redrawn. What does this mean? VMS Historically...