Behind the Scenes

Typically, education administrators who review bids for digital video and security systems are not video-technology experts. Yet, as they delve into the bid process to determine who will create their institution's new surveillance system, they are challenged to be experts. Institutions may employ security consultants to help them through this process, but there are ways that administrators can get a better grasp of who should provide the system. Both the tangibles — the type of camera that will be used on the athletic field — and the intangibles — the experiences subcontractors have in installing school security systems — should be quantified.

To do so, a school safety total-systems-integration request for proposal (RFP) should have five sections: general terms and conditions, vendor information, description of requirements, specifications, and proposal submission and evaluation. The first section generally comes from the institution's own purchasing department boiler-plate, but the other four can be new territory for some administrators.

Vendor information

The vendor information section should go beyond a request for names, addresses and phone numbers. What you really are trying to find out is whether a vendor has the experience to create and install a surveillance system that will protect your schools.

How long have they been in business? How many local and permanent employees will be involved on your project, as opposed to temporary staff and subcontractors? Who is the project manager, and what is that person's experience? You will need similar information on the installation team leaders and technical support, such as who will be the lead certified network engineer for network installations. But, that's only a start.

Remember, you want to know what experience they have with systems in schools. Therefore, you need to request references from institutions of a size similar to yours where projects of a similar scope were completed. Ask each vendor for names of such institutions, the total number of schools completed, the names and phone numbers of contacts at those schools, and the scope of the project completed. Most important and often forgotten, request the project start and completion dates.

Description of requirements

The description of requirements is intended to avoid future “clarification” discussions. It defines what “is” is. It also might describe what pricing really means. For example, if an item needs a cable, but the cable is sold independently, you will want to be sure that you're obtaining pricing for both the component and the cable. You'll also want a vendor to give you input on what is best for your system.

Therefore, you may want to start the section like this: “When the terms ‘must,’ ‘required’ or ‘no substitutions’ are used in the RFP, the specification being referred to is a mandatory requirement for the RFP. Bidders are required to include pricing for all mandatory components of the configurations they choose to bid. Whenever the terms ‘can,’ ‘prefers,’ ‘may’ or ‘should’ are used in the RFP, the specification being referred to is desirable. Failure to provide such items will not be cause for rejection. However, such failure will probably cause a reduction in the score awarded.”

There needs to be a description of ordering, delivery, installation and invoicing requirements. Items you will want to quantify include how many purchase orders you want to issue, the notification period prior to shipment, and when deliveries are due after receipt of purchase orders. Set your terms for pricing. Should shipping and on-site setup and installation be included in pricing or broken out as separate items? What does “shipping” mean? A suggested definition is “shipping includes unloading order from truck and moving to designated area inside the building, removing equipment from boxes and removing boxes from site.”

Does the awarded vendor have responsibilities beyond delivering the products as above, or do you want your vendor to install and configure various components within the CCTV and other parts of the security system, such as access control, sensors and other components? Do they provide all the necessary cabling for power, video and controls? What about software? Who is responsible for training — how much of it and to whom?

What happens if there are delays in the schedule? Who warehouses the equipment? What's the timeline for ordering, delivery, installation and invoicing?

Don't forget to determine vendor certifications. For example, ask for a copy of their low-voltage license. In addition, do they have National Institute for Certification in Engineering Technologies (NICET)-level certified technicians on staff? It is likely that your state will require at minimum a NICET Level II certified technician to provide installation or service on a life-safety system, such as a fire system or an access-control system that is integrated with a fire system. Lastly, it is imperative that warranty, extended-service and support requirements are detailed. Can the various vendors comply with demands such as three-year parts and labor warranties, experience quantifications for service technicians, and your policy for spare parts?

Specifications

This is the section with which most people are familiar — the dry, detailed definitions of product components. It is important to make sure all items are included, such as various types of cameras, lenses and housings, as well as different types of monitors, and a variety of multiplexers and recorders. Archive components, controller keypads and workstations also are essential.

Then, there's the “glue” — the parts that connect and hold the system together. These are the components that can't be seen and often aren't discussed. They tend to have names such as the “video transmission passive transceiver hub,” “Plenum 18-4 motion cable” or the “CCTV camera power supply, location at head-end.” It's not important that you know all of these terms, but you do want your security consultant to ensure that they're all covered; look for such items in your bid. Also, look for the software programs, which like any computer system, ensure one component communicates to another.

Finally, after all components and software are detailed, don't forget to have a similar section for maintenance.

Proposal submission and evaluation

This is an extremely important, and often overlooked, part of any RFP. In the proposal submission and evaluation, you are informing prospective bidders that clarity counts. Here is an example of what you might say: “Each proposal shall be organized simply and economically. It must provide straightforward, concise proof of offer's capabilities to satisfy RFP requirements. Emphasis must be on completeness and clarity. Any proposal that does not include all required information may be disqualified.”

Also, you must provide your evaluation criteria. This allows your prospective partners to see your priorities, and should be part of the RFP package. A typical criteria listing with quantitative weighting of sections is given in Figure 1. Your evaluation criteria and weightings may be the same or radically different.

Although the bid process is dry and at times agonizing, that is somewhat the point. Quantifying takes the emotion out of purchasing and installing a security system. With knowledge of the process, education institutions and the administrators charged with securing the school will be able to participate more effectively in the RFP process.

Sorrentino is director of Campus Secure, GE Interlogix, Corvallis, Ore.


NOTABLE

A school safety total-systems-integration request for proposal (RFP) should have five sections:

  • GENERAL TERMS AND CONDITIONS

  • VENDOR INFORMATION

  • SPECIFICATIONS

  • DESCRIPTION OF REQUIREMENTS

  • PROPOSAL SUBMISSION AND EVALUATION


FIGURE 1
Evaluation criteria checklist
Points
Cost 50
Includes equipment and installation 40
Warranty upgrade 10
Requirements 10
Ordering, delivery, installation, invoicing plan 7
Certification included 3
Technical Evaluation of Equipment 15
Vendor References/Past Experience 20
Company information 10
Company references 10
Proposal Submission 5
Total 100
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