City Housing Authority RFP Examined

By: John Honovich, Published on Nov 07, 2010

In this note, we examine a current video surveillance RFP for a housing authority covering more than a dozen sites. The RFP is specified in extreme details and, in may cases, too detailed or contradictory. For background, review the 154 page Housing Authority video surveillance RFP document.

Key attributes of the system include:

  • 15 sites/complexes require surveillance
  • Video shall be monitored both locally at each site and at the Housing Authority's main office.
  • At each site, a recorder and a large monitor (50"+) will be deployed. Video will be recorded locally and made available over the Housing Authority's 10MP MPLS WAN connections (to the main office).
  • Cameras must meet various resolution requirements ranging from 20 pixels per foot (ppf) for detection at entrances and parking lots to 60 ppf for 'strong identification' at choke points
  • The VMS system must meet about 30 pages of extremely detailed specifications for numerous functionalities including specific 3rd party support, methods of enterprise management, video export, display, etc.
  • Camera technical specifications are quite detailed (see page 35 of the spec): 4CIF to 2MP resolution, day/night cameras, minimum illumination: .18 lux, H.264, auto back focus, dual streaming, alarm inputs and outputs, etc. All fixed cameras are to be vandal proof domes. Additionally, bidder must determine and supply IR if needed.
  • Unlicensed 2.4, 4.9 or 5 GHz wireless links must be resistant to interference from tree / foilage growth.
  • At the main office, the Authority wants (9) 50" monitors in a 3 x 3 matrix for monitoring video. The monitoring station is not staffed 24/7.
  • No video analytics are specified.

Key observations:

  • Milestone Enterprise only VMS that matches: From the various low level specs included (Master/Slave setup, Digifort and Verint camera support, iPix compatibility, 'speedup' settings, etc.), this is almost certainly requires bidding Milestone Enterprise. This restricts competition by artificially introducing unnecessary requirements (e.g., does the system have to do enterprise management by the antiquated master/slave approach? are iPix settings really needed? etc.) We think the customer would be better served by issuing general performance specifications and let bidders offer multiple VMS choices. This is also a confusing and wasteful approach as 30 pages of specifications could have been replaced with a few lines to show their true intent (though this is a frequent tactic). Secondly, if the client really want Milestone, we think Milestone Corporate would be a significantly better choice than Enterprise. Corporate has superior enterprise management, alarm handling, video distribution, etc.
  • On-site recording: Recording the video at each site is not surprising. Even with a 10Mb/s WAN connection, insufficient bandwidth is available for moving numerous dozens of camera per site to a central location.
  • Pixel Per Foot specifications: We think specifying pixels per foot is helpful but a minimum horizontal Field of View (Fov) in feet should also be specified (e.g., 40 ppf at a 20 foot wide FoV). Without specifying the horizontal FoV width, bidders can not be sure what resolution camera to choose. For instance, if one bidder estimates the FoV to be 20 feet and another 30 feet, insufficient resolution will be provided for the narrower estimate. This is especially hard as, by definition, any camera can provide 60 (or 120) ppf if you accept a narrower enough FoV. Readers repeatedly expressed confusion on this point in our PPF study.
  • Vandal Domes: The choice of camera housings are not surprising. Indeed, the number of IP vandal domes has grown significantly over the last 2 years as domes begin to outnumber box cameras. For example, over 100 vandal domes are listed in our Camera Finder.
  • Minimum Illumination: A minimum illumination  of 0.18 lux is essentially meaningless as camera manufacturers have no standardized, comparable way of comparing low light performance. Setting a number only invites and rewards those manufacturers who fabricate or rig unrealistic numbers. It may sound crazy but given who manufacturers set their min illumination rating, the Authority would likely be better off just specifying a mechanical cut filter and leaving out minimum illumination altogether.
  • Auto Back Focus: The specification requires auto back focus but that one requirement limits options from about 26 cameras who meet the other requirements to less than 10 who also support auto back focus. While auto back focus is valuable, it does add about $100 average more cost and limits options.
  • IR Illuminators: The spec is vague on requiring IR illuminators: "Bidder to determine if IR is required to supplement existing lighting." The problem is that determining when IR is needed is subjective and also dependent on other settings used. Quality of image degrades gradually with less light so disagreement can arise as to when video becomes unusable. Also, a savvy or manipulative bidder can set longer exposure times 'providing' more light at the expense of motion blur. Specification would be improved by listing the longest exposure time allowed.
  • No video analytics: Given that these are large housing areas with on-site guards at some sites, real time alerting from video analytics would almost certainly be useful. Furthermore, given the amount spent on this project, it is likely they can afford the minimal extra cost. On the other hand, given the lack of confidence the community has in analytics, this is not surprising. When analytics truly goes mainstream, every project like this should include analytics (much like they are now including megapixel).
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