VQiPS - Video Quality in Public Safety

By Carlton Purvis, Published Apr 22, 2014, 12:00am EDT

The Video Quality in Public Safety (VQiPS) working group is run by the US government and is comprised of "public safety practitioners, Federal partners, manufacturers, and representatives of standards making bodies," that meets annually to collaborate and share information on how surveillance is being used, what technology is available and what end users need to make it more efficient. 

We spoke with program manager Cuong Luu about Homeland Security's efforts to increase interoperability and the main limitations they find in city surveillance.

Goal of VQiPS

The main goal of VQiPS is to help agencies get information they need to improve video quality and to increase interoperability.

“When state a local agencies go out and implement surveillance systems in their jurisdiction, they usually work with the vendor and that vendors asks them how much funding they have and they end up providing a system that may or may not meet their requirements,” Luu said. The VQiPS program is to help provide end users with more information and help them understand that key component of a surveillance system.

He notes the DHS camera finder tool, which he isn’t mean to suggest specific cameras, but to help end users start thinking about specifically what they are using cameras for and get a general idea of what features and considerations they need to keep in mind when putting together an RFP.

Last year, it released its first edition of the Digital Video Quality Handbook, a primer for agencies learning about video surveillance. A second version is in development.


Sharing Video Evidence

One of the main goals if VQiPS is moving agencies toward interoperability. After 9/11, DHS found that there were a number of issues when trying to share video content between agencies in D.C., Maryland and Virginia -- much of the problem came from all of the different file formats being used at the different agencies.

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“Not everyone is going to the same system because they have different needs in different jurisdictions, but in a major incident they need to be able to share that data,” Luu said. This means both exporting in easily playable file types and streaming.

Using H.264 for example, a codec that most agencies can work with. Members of the IACP mentioned this was a top pain point in an interview last year.

Live Streaming

“When they open the port and provide a feed to other outside networks, we want them to comply with one uniform standard. We don’t care what kind of a proprietary system you have within your box, but your output needs to be able to be used across platforms during an incident,” he said.

There is no standard that is going to be able to fit all types of applications, but he said there are some common denominators.

One of the Main Limitations of City Systems

Luu said one of the main limitations he’s seen is that network infrastructure does not always keep up with the technology, especially with city systems. Cities want to put up the most expensive, high definition cameras without a network that can support the increased about of data moving through it.

This is one reason, he says, that H.265 it interesting -- similar image quality to H.264 but using less bandwidth. So far only one manufacturer is actually using it.

“The ultimate goal of H.265 is to reduce the amount of bandwidth, but still have the same quality as H.264,” he said. “Achieving better throughput: that would be very valuable.”

He says he hopes the surveillance industry will take more steps toward addressing these limitations. Developing government standards would take years and adoption would take quite some time, he says, but if companies take the lead they can encourage adoption and the technology refresh rate is fast.

Annual Workshop

From April 30 to May 1st, the Department of Homeland Security will hold it’s fifth annual VQiPS workshop in Houston, Texas. The event brings together major companies in the industry and government agencies to collaborate with lessons learned and best practices.

Luu says it’s a chance for DHS, manufacturers, end suers and academia to collaborate on ideas.

“Once we hear the requirements and needs from the end user, we can incorporate that into the next phase of development (of video surveillance resources) and the vendor can show the end user what technology is available out there,” he said.

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