DHS $1.5 Billion Covert Surveillance RFP

Author: John Honovich, Published on Feb 22, 2011

In this note, we examine a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) RFP for covert audio/video surveillance equipment and services. The equipment is to be used by DHS and other Federal law enforcement agencies. This bid is interesting both for the potential size of the procurement and as a glimpse into the technology used by America's top anti-terrorism organization. Surprisingly, the technology, especially, the video surveillance is incredibly low tech and out of date. Additionally, the bid is open to procure as much as $1.5 billion for equipment and services over a 5 year term. However, no obligation exists to purchase even a fraction of the total amount. Finally, the specifics on the purposes or application of the surveillance gear are not being disclosed.

For background, read the 96 page core DHS RFP specification.

The RFP identifies 3 major categories of equipment:

  • Wireless Video Systems (RF Microwave operating in L,S,C Bands)
  • IP Video Systems (Standard Definition PTZ)
  • Audio Systems (Wireless Audio)

For the wireless video system, the RFP specifies in very detailed terms many different components such as video transmitters, video repeaters, and video receivers. Note that it does not actually specify any analog cameras for the transmitters. The requirements are highly detailed, calling for multi-band operation (L,S and C Bands), digital compression of audio/video using DVB-T, and digital microwave transmission using COFDM. Hence, this part of the RFP appears to be tailored to more of a niche manufacturer such as Advanced Microwave Products (AMP).

As for video surveillance, the RFP specifies a standard definition D/N IP PTZ with:

  • At least a 25x optical zoom, 340 degrees or more pan, and -25 to +90 degrees minimum tilt
  • MPEG-4 or JPEG compression only
  • Serial Outputs (RS232/485)
  • Capable of being viewed from a IE running on an NT 4.0 OSes with Pentium 3 CPUs and 128 MB of RAM
  • Virtually silent PTZ operation

The first striking feature is how dated the technology being specified is. This appears to be 2006 technology.

Secondly, we believe this is a cut and paste of a manufacturer's A&E specification. The most likely match is the Sony SNC-RZ30N. However, this model is already discontinued with limited availability. The manufacturer recommended replacement, the SNC-RZ50N, supports H.264.

While Sony's PTZs are fine, relatively inexpensive cameras, we are moderately surprised that a camera more commonly used in small businesses is at the core of Homeland Security's covert surveillance solution.

Additionaly, it is interesting to note that no IP networking equipment (wireless or wired) is specified. 

The audio systems equipment specified consists primarily of audio recorders, audio transmitters, and audio receivers. Unlike the wireless video systems, no requirements for RF operation in the L,S,C bands was indicated. The RFP appears to leave RF frequency spectrum open to vendor implemented ones.

One key requirement is that the recording devices use a standard PC-based audio file format and record to a non-removable flash type storage. Further, the device must interface via USB cable for management of the device itself and resident audio files.

Overall, the specification is a jumble of technologies that do not seem designed to integrate or work as a system. Outdated and piecemeal, we do not understand DHS's overall plan or approach.

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