Before the tragic events of September 11, 2001, the mere sight of cameras watching city streets often incited suspicion and apprehension among the populace. Since that fateful day, the use of video surveillance in public places for the purpose of public safety has been on the rise.
Today, many good citizens who once objected to the use of cameras in a public venue are now relieved to see authorities keeping a closer eye on this nation’s city streets, public properties and interstate highways.
“People seem to feel safer knowing that the area they are in is being watched. In most cases, they believe that someone’s watching the surrounding area and not specifically them. Cameras are supposed to be a deterrent,” says Ed Heinemann, senior project manager for ATC Int’l Inc. of Miami.
According to Heinemann, one of the goals behind public video surveillance is to make the target look less attractive to an adversary. The target in this instance might be a little old lady meandering down a city street, a child walking to or from school, a public parking lot outside a government building or vehicular traffic on an interstate highway.
“When people go into a municipal building, they want to feel safe and most people do so because they know the outside and inside areas are under surveillance,” says Heinemann. “When we look at a client, we look at what will provide the highest level of safety for their facility, and it’s no different when it comes to cameras on lamp poles or on public buildings.”
There isn’t an easy way to break into the public CCTV market. A company will need to build communication and reputation with municipalities to make that happen. Companies should also look to go beyond the sales methods they are used to.
Public Sector Success Begins With a Personal Touch
For mid- to large-size systems integrators and large alarm companies, public works projects involving video surveillance offer a wonderful opportunity to expand the scope of an already growing business. Not only does it allow companies to diversify and move into a larger venue, it opens up new revenue streams that can really make a difference to the bottom line.
The process of breaking into the public sector video market begins with a firm commitment, a load of patience and a bunch of money. The end result could be a well-established, prosperous business. It’s the distance between the two extremes that systems integrators and large security contractors need to know about.
If one asks most large integration firms how they broke into the public sector market, they will often say it’s personal contact with the right people and a lot of hard work. Heinemann’s firm, in business since 1972, specializes in large systems integration projects like video surveillance systems at seaports, on city streets and other public areas. According to Heinemann, their involvement in this market took many years to develop and required a big helping of education, a mountain of patience, and a load of time and money.
“The close relationships we have with our contacts have evolved over a period of time. They know our organization and they like our work,” says Heinemann. “When a past client tells someone else about our good work, this is the best advertising you can have. In fact, this has had a large impact on our ability to close the sale.”
One of the benefits associated with working with public works video surveillance is there are only a few firms in any one area that can really handle these jobs, especially when systems integration and network technology are involved. Breaking into the market may not take as long since the playing field is narrow and the number of competitors relatively few. But working in a mature market could mean years of effort before striking pay dirt.
“I believe the secret to our success is that we are the only company in our area that can do it all,” says Craig Weide, project manager for the technology division of Transtar Electric and Technologies Inc. of Toledo, Ohio. “If we were a security-only company, we would not have as much market penetration as we do. We do big projects and are known by the general contactors [GCs] as a company that can handle the job from start to finish.”
This appeals to just about all GCs. Instead of constantly haggling between the various tradesmen on a job concerning whose responsibility it is to do what, they can express their needs and concerns to a single job foreman or project manager. It creates a single point of accountability.
Potential Public Customers Don’t Just Want Cameras for Security
Finding public works video surveillance bids is not an easy task, although there are several ways to go about it.
Probably one of the biggest and foremost market segments in this area is that of municipalities. Many cities across the nation are working to install public camera systems in an effort to protect citizens against possible acts of terrorism.
Looking for opportunities can mean thinking outside the box. Instead of focusing entirely on crime and terrorism applications, look for other vertical markets that incorporate public works CCTV. The fact is, there are other reasons for installing camera systems in public places. A good example of this is traffic control on major freeways and tollways.
“Look at highway cameras and how much they have helped people to understand why there are traffic problems,” says Heinemann. “Intelligent highway control systems include signs that tell people to take an alternate route when there’s a problem up ahead.”
Another reason for placing cameras in public places relate to the environment and tourism, especially in coastal locations.
“We do a lot of construction jobs, beach monitoring, and a number of scientific jobs watching animals, snow conditions, pollution for the EPA, the discharge of smoke stacks and tourism camps,” says Rusty Erdman, owner and president of Erdman Video Systems Inc. of Miami, Fla. “The principle motivation for these public cameras is public service — to see conditions, such as the ocean waves, so owners can see the condition of inlets, for example.”
Many Resources Are Available to Search for Bid Opportunities
There are many ways to farm out bid opportunities, including construction reports, plan rooms, architects, engineers and company sales departments.
There are companies that publish construction reports that provide the details concerning upcoming projects. Included are the results of prior bids as well. In some cases, reports can be purchased that pertain to specific geographic areas of interest. One such research firm to utilize is F.W. Dodge, a division of McGraw Hill.
Local plan rooms are another source of information on public works projects that include video surveillance systems. At a plan room, you will find a list of new bid opportunities with basic information on each project. Some plan rooms provide daily updates via E-Mail so you know what they have on hand before you go. Examples of firms that offer this type of service include, but are not limited to, a local builders exchange, Associated General Contractors and F.W. Dodge.
Because public works projects involve city, state and federal entities, a legal notice must be rendered by law that announces new projects and their need for a quotation to the public. The astute among us will look in all the right places where public notices are sure to appear, including newspapers.
The only problem with this method of bid farming is that there are so many possible newspapers to choose from. In this case, a clipping service may be employed to search through newspaper publications of choice for legal notices that mention video surveillance bid opportunities. Coming up with a list of valid and effective keywords is key to making this a successful method.
Another way to search for bid opportunities in the public works video surveillance market is through public libraries and the Internet.
A prime resource available on the Internet is SSI‘s LeadTracker service, located at www.ssileadtracker.com. The service, available by subscription, includes hard-to-find information about federal, state and local government request-forproposals, plus other possible leads.
Dealing With Union Workers All But Unavoidable in Public Jobs
Opportunities to install public video surveillance systems often mean working with union workers. While there are some states like Florida where this may not be the case, nonunion security contactors and systems integrators could find themselves in trouble if they fail to take into account the possibility of a union connection when considering specific projects.
Weide and Heinemann both work for companies that have a large electrical contracting component. In Weide’s case, the Transtar Electric and Technologies is unionized.
“It’s pretty hard for nonunion shops to get this work - it’s politically difficult,” says Weide. “It really puts the heat on local politicians when it comes to hiring nonunion vs. union, and we’re a strong pro-union community.”
ATC Int’l is not unionized, but Heinemann says they often find themselves in a position where they have to hire union workers to do the legwork. In this case, they either hire a union electrical contractor (EC) or go to the local chapter’s business agent to hire union workers.
“You can do it either way,” Heinemann says. “I use the business agent in an area we’re going into to find out who the electrical contractor is on the job and whether he’s any good.”
There are advantages in working as a union shop or with union ECs. Teledata technicians perform the low-voltage in Weide’s case. Even within the same firm, there are times when Weide’s techs work side-by-side with commercial electricians, and these men and women usually know this type of work from front to back.
“I know of [low-voltage] companies who have signed a labor agreement with IBEW [International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers] for the express purpose of being able to hire qualified people as they are needed,” says Tom Shreves, executive director for the North Central Ohio chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). “The benefit of this is that it allows them to expand and contract their business as they get work.”
Shreves adds that when the job is done, many of those companies send the workers back to the IBEW union hall. “It allows them to use the 50 men they need now and when that job is done, they don’t have to keep them, they send them back to the hall,” Shreves says. “NECA has developed the Management Education Institute to provide courses mainly in business management areas but it also provides some technical courses for our management people.”
Public Works Video Represents Profit Potential, but Use Caution
Although the profit potential associated with public works video is huge, so is the possibility of failure. This is especially true of those who do not thoroughly study the market. Large security contractors and small- to large-size systems integrators must use caution when entering the public sector market.
“I would say the positive is the size of the contracts associated with public works jobs. The negative is the amount of reporting regulations and often delayed payments that go with it,” says Weide. “They take a long time to pay sometimes and they are known to make changes midstream in a project. You have to be prepared to react fast.”
This is why it’s important management understands all the processes involved before they go head-on into a project they do not understand.
Those who embark on this journey without doing their homework greatly increase their chance of failure.
At issue are the hidden costs associated with this type of installation. For example, the estimators and project managers must have experience in advanced job costing, as commonly practiced by the electrical trade. You must carefully choose the projects that you bid based on size, geographic area, type of work and the party to whom the bid will be given. In terms of project rejection, you must decide in what venue your company does the best job and make a decision whether you wish to limit yourself to just that type of work. Some companies do well in industrial and commercial settings, while others do better in retail stores and residential construction. In terms of geographic area, you have to decide how far you can send technicians before it becomes cost prohibitive.
In terms of who your firm decides to work with, there are good GCs and architects, while there are others you might not want to fool with. In addition, the price you give an EC or GC will be different than that you hand the owner of a facility - that is if you want to work with them again.
You must also know your competition well enough so when you look at a bid list and see their name, you know whether you need to bid that particular job. Why take the time to bid a project when you know that a certain competitor historically wins every time?
It takes time to do a thorough quotation, so if you lose the job, you will not only lose a chance to do another big job, but also lose cold, hard cash.
The project manager must also consider the complexities and unusual working environment that their installers will encounter on a particular job. Installers will have to have special equipment in order to do the necessary aerial work, such as boom trucks capable of safely reaching necessary heights. Installers will not be able to slap a tall ladder up on the side of a light pole to install a camera. The general contractor, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) and others will see to that.
Your technical people will have to be top notch in just about every security discipline in use and they will certainly have to be capable of working in an IP environment. This includes the use of fiber and unshielded twisted- pair (UTP) cable.
It’s also important to know whether the governmental body that issued the request for proposal (RFP) intends the job to pay a prevailing wage to those who perform the work.
“Even if you are not union, you do have to comply on government jobs with standards for rate of compensation that people get paid, and this includes benefits and such, so you have to remember to work that into your bid workup,” says Heinemann.
Another problem that project managers are seeing relates to incomplete electrical drawings and the placement of critical information meant for the low-voltage installer that could be buried in the general architectural portion of the specifications.
“The biggest problem today is the prints do not give you all the information you need, which means you have to look through all the architect and engineer’s prints instead of the electrical prints because the information is not there,” says Jerry Buchhop, project manager with Transtar Electric and Technologies. “It’s not like the old days when everything you needed was there on the electrical prints.”