Ridiculous $100K Project / Now StalledBy: Carlton Purvis, Published on Oct 31, 2013
Update 10/31: When we first published this in July, we broke down how flawed the RFP was. Now, the city is delaying the project as it works through its concerns.
Industry professionals often complain about the effectiveness and fairness of RFPs. A small beach town in Delaware recently released a vague and confusing RFP for an 8-camera, $100,000 system. In this note, we review the town’s RFP for the project, breaking down what the RFP consists of and why it was put together as it was.
Last summer, Dewey Beach saw its first homicide, and video evidence from local business played a major role in solving the case. After public outcry, town officials decided it was time to look into a city-wide surveillance system. They want to put up eight cameras in areas where police have been called to respond most often. The town has no existing surveillance infrastructure, and $100,000 to spend on the project.
Vague and Confusing Specs
Camera Specifications (full RFP here) include:
- PTZ Cameras Only (PTZ controls must be capable using a mouse, keyboard and joystick)
- Low Light Capability
- Compatible with DVTEL 6.2
- Up to the integrator whether 6 of the cameras use cable, wireless or fiber to transmit video
- Support both MPEG-4 and H.264 Compression
- Capable of D1, 4CIF, 2CIF and CIF resolution
- Capable of 25-35x optical zoom, 12x digital zoom
- Housings should be able to withstand changing weather at the beach/salt water and bulletproof housings “desirable”
- Cameras should have a blue flashing strobe, visible from two blocks in daylight, that can be turned on and off
- Availability of 99.9%
H.264 and MPEG-4
The town wants cameras that support H.264 and MPEG-4 compression, which limits the number of cameras that can be considered for the project and completely disqualifies many higher end cameras. Many cameras support H.264 or MJPEG, but there is no reason to have MPEG-4 if you are already compressing in H.264. See our post Introduction to Video CODECs : MJPEG, MPEG-4, H.264. Dewey police contract officer Lieutenant John Hocker, says the spec "was taken from information obtained while reviewing the system Baltimore is using."
He clarified later that the MPEG-4 and H.264 requirement was only used because it was copied from Baltimore specs. There is no reason specific to their needs that it was specified.
Dewey Beach wants "low light capability," but provides no indication of what lighting conditions are like in the area or any other details to show bidders what they mean by "low light." For example, they could specify cameras have a mechanical cut filter or require certain features be visible at a certain distance at a specific lux level. Hockner says the town did walk-throughs with interested bidders to give them an idea of their requirements."We did not specify specific demands of the equipment because we have many poor lit areas in our town and we did not want to ask for performance that was not obtainable," he said.
It seems from the optical zoom (25 - 35) that they want standard definition, however, HD would see farther and cover more.
Transmitting Video Question?
Except for two cameras, the RFP leaves it up to the integrator whether they use cable, wireless or fiber to transmit video. However, Hockner says after speaking to vendors the town decided to go with a completely wireless system and that the details will be worked out in the final contract.
VMS, Servers and Storage
They never specify a VMS in the RFP, but require cameras to be compatible with DVTEL. Hockner says DVTEL was specified because the police department has a separate 13-camera system in its building that uses DVTEL. Specifying DVTEL could make integrating the systems easier if they ever decide to. Baltimore's system also uses DVTEL.
We also suspect there are typos in the RFP that could confuse bidders. For example, MPEG-4 was written into the spec as "IvIPEG-4" and 2CIF written as "2GIF," possibly errors from transcribing the spec from a handwritten note? See excerpt below:
When asked about the errors, Hockner said, "Apparently you know much more about the below terminology. I cannot answer that question."
The RFP says the integrator will provide maintenance and that it expects the cameras to be available 99.9% of the time, which would be no more than eight hours of down time in an entire year. If a problem arises, the contractor has four hours to respond during business hours and 24 hours to respond during non-business hours and be available for emergency response, according to the RFP. "When we invest [$100,000] into a system such as this and the public feels safe having the system up 24 hours a day, then that is what we want," he said. Hocker says the details of this provision will be worked out with the integrator who wins the contract.
Funding and Contract
Half the system will be paid for by the town and the other half will be covered by grants and donations. The Cape Gazette reports that Integration Logistics has already been chosen to install the system, and the city is working out the details now. Both the town manager and the police department say the contract has not yet been awarded, however the Dewey Police say Integration Logistics would be their first choice.
Design in Progress is a Risk
Rather than using an RFP to specify a system, it seems that Dewey Beach used the RFP to lure interested bidders into giving free consultations. Despite the town's long list of camera requirements they still do not provide clear enough information to give an outside bidder a good basis to design a system. From talking to the Dewey Police it seems that they left some things out of the RFP by design. They have been in contact with the bidders, working out details before awarding a contract. Unfortunately, there are no addenda to the RFP or any other publicly available information reflect these details being worked out (like the light levels decided on during the walk through or that the police now want the system to be wireless). The only reason we found out is because we asked about them specifically. Some bidders may be willing to do free consulting for a vague RFP for chance at winning the project, but others may not have participated because they did not want to waste their time after reading such a problematic RFP.
[UPDATE October 31]: System Delayed
The contract was indeed awarded to Integration Logistics, but the installation of this system has been delayed after a county commissioner refrained from approving the contract calling the project flawed and saying it will end up costing the city more in the long run.
According to the Delaware Coast Press [link no longer available], Commissioner Gary Mauler is the main person holding up the process. From the story:
“I think people are focused on the price tag and not the cost to own it,” he said, adding the cameras would be based on wireless technology but were missing certain antennas in order to function. “The cost to get it maintained and repaired, it’s like some cars are easy to work on and some are difficult to work on.”
The grant the city received to buy the system must be used by January. The newspaper questions whether the city will come to a decision by then. We spoke to a city official about whats holding up the contract.
"The project is actually continuing, but we first need to take a closer look at it. The cost of a system is only 40 percent of the actual cost. That other 60 percent is how we maintain it or how we add features we want to add and how to we upgrade. We think we need to answer all these questions before we put money into this," he said.
He would not specifically address comments about missing antennas but said, "With any kind of system, as you go through the process of reviewing the documentation of it, people are only human. They're going to make mistakes. You just have to work through them until all of that is resolved. Right now we're trying to work through all these technical details so everyone knows what we're getting."
But, he admits, the process will take time because the town does not have anyone with extensive experience with surveillance systems.