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Avoid the Perils of Public Projects
a&s International 2010/9/29

Public-surveillance projects share the basic goal of watching for citizen safety. However, meeting that goal is not always simple. A&S looks at common issues with public monitoring and how to sidestep them.

Public-surveillance projects share the basic goal of watching for citizen safety. However, meeting that goal is not always simple. A&S looks at common issues with public monitoring and how to sidestep them.

When things go wrong, it is always good to have a witness.

Public-surveillance projects are for areas with a good deal of foot traffic, such as airports, highways or cities. Cameras help keep an eye out and provide unbiased evidence, making them part of community safety and awareness. As security spending has increased, more governments are funding public video surveillance projects.

However, some projects overlook basic steps. Hundreds of cameras in Rawalpindi, India were installed to monitor key locations. Due to negligence, at least 145 cameras are now out of order, wasting the initial investment.

Even when the cameras do work, improper installation yields poor results. Washington, D.C. has at least 120 cameras on its police network, and yet they failed to document a single crime. At least one crime was not captured due to a PTZ camera's constant panning. With the cameras worth US$3.8 million and a synchronized operation command center costing $2.4 million in 2009, they epitomized a significant waste of taxpayer money.

Up in the Air
The U.K. is one of the most monitored countries in the world, with some estimates putting the camera count at 4 million. However, the Metropolitan Police of London found only one crime a year was solved for every 1,000 cameras in place, making cameras ineffective for crime detection and a poor ROI.

A combination of video glitches and poor integration shut down the Newark Liberty International Airport for six hours on Jan. 3. Graduate student Haisong Jiang ducked under a security rope to accompany his girlfriend to her departure gate when a guard stepped away.

Cameras captured Jiang crossing the secure area, but the VMS playback was not working and had been out of order for six days. While no lives were lost due to Jiang's actions, a malicious security breach would have had severe consequences.

Smart Planning
Headline-grabbing video failures underscore the importance of good planning. Fancy specs take a back seat to carefully considered projects with a long-term plan and staff support.

It is important that projects not be bid on price alone, as contractors will cut corners and waste taxpayer money, said Alf Chang, Senior Consultant for A&S magazines and a former installer.

In the U.K., relatively few contractors are qualified to win town center projects. “Generally speaking, they are mostly larger businesses that are both experienced and long-established, so from that perspective, questions about their suitability and reliability rarely arise,” said Doktor Jon, a 30-year veteran of the video surveillance industry.

It is difficult for an established industry player to become a jack-of-all-trades, which is often expected in public installations. “For example, some installers may be brilliant at fitting analog cameras, but have little or no knowledge about integrating their systems into an IP-video environment,” Doktor Jon said. “Likewise, an IT-savvy company may think it's well-conversant with networking technology, but have absolutely no concept of basic optical principles.”

Learning Curve
Mastering the technology for each public project takes time and effort. However, the integrator may not have been trained properly to apply the manufacturer's solutions, leaving the user at a disadvantage, Chang said. Operators then do not know to look for manufacturer support, so when the system breaks down, no one is on call.

Radwin, a wireless provider, has deployed its solutions for Jerusalem's city surveillance. “Radwin has an extensive network of system integrators and works closely with them on installing the wireless broadband network for video, providing training and online and on-site support to ensure successful project deployment,” said Adi Nativ, VP of Marketing and Business Development for Radwin. Its wireless broadband radios are used to transmit video from megapixel cameras.


A public project generally follows the 10 basic steps below. Steps may differ based on country, project size and budget.

① Budgeting: Determining overall cost for systems and solutions

② Consulting: Designing the project after the budget has been established

③ Bidding: Posting public notices of project requirements and requesting bids

④ Equipment check: Checking product quality after equipment has been specified

⑤ Inventory: Collecting project equipment and peripherals

⑥ Subcontracting: Finding contractors to perform the work

⑦ Installation: Setting up equipment at the site

⑧ Testing: Checking for integration and if everything works

⑨ Final inspection and commissioning: Making sure systems perform as they should during testing and wrapping up the project for initial deployment

⑩ Maintenance: Upkeep and replacement of parts

Unfit Solutions
Winning a public project can represent a windfall for manufacturers, along with prestige.

However, some manufacturers unduly influence consultants to write bid specs expressly for their products. Users may be wowed by eye-popping video, which may not suit their needs, Chang said. Instead of defining the project's purpose — such as monitoring traffic or crowd control — the manufacturer tries to cram as many products as possible into the tender.

For example, an Asian city surveillance project's specs included color recognition analytics, a requirement only one vendor claimed to be able to deliver, Chang said. This self-serving behavior results in impractical equipment that does not address the project's objectives.

Manufacturers are welcome to build relationships with end users, but not sell useless equipment. “There's a universally serious problem that because many contracts are generally placed on required ‘specifications' and not necessarily defined operational objectives, these systems either perform at below their required level of efficiency, or simply fail to live up to their promised performance,” said Doktor Jon.

Once the equipment is bid and the project is running, maintenance is an integral part of the contract. Authorities will usually budget for staffing, premises and equipment, with maintenance included as a recurring expense, said Doktor Jon.

However, some contractors go under, leaving no one to perform maintenance. There have been instances of one or more installers going bankrupt halfway through a project, bringing the whole project to a halt until a new contractor can take over, Chang said. Incompetent contractors should abstain from public projects.

Contractors failing to stay solvent is more prevalent in some countries, but budget shortfalls in the U.K. and Europe could result in more businesses closing 12 to 36 months down the line. “In practice, most significant projects now require an evaluation of contractors' recently filed business accounts,” said Doktor Jon.

Continued Operation
With planning being a key ingredient for success, other factors keep public surveillance projects running. “In a literal sense, the main drivers for maintaining a public-space surveillance scheme are community and political support, supplemented by adequate funding,” said Doktor Jon.

Support and strong demand will ensure a video network keeps watch. “From a manufacturer's perspective on public monitoring, what we've been seeing in the past few years is a major rise in demand for establishing wireless video networks,” Nativ said. “More and more public organizations are seeking to enhance public security and safety, and are establishing video surveillance networks.”

Along with funding, the continuity of public surveillance depends on whether it meets needs. “Consideration needs to be made toward achieving the best value for money by using the most appropriate technology and techniques,” said Doktor Jon.

Any public project must consider its objectives, regardless of size or location. “Existing system operators need to take a much closer look at not only what they currently do, but also why they do it and what they hope to achieve; we may well see a number of video surveillance schemes either being downgraded or even switched off,” Doktor Jon said.

Thoughtful consideration will make a public project successful, rather than a hot feature or particular camera brand. Evaluating site needs, as well as finding suitable solutions, will prevent public projects from becoming public scandals.

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