Video Quality in Public Safety

It's likely you have never heard or read about Video Quality in Public Safety (VQiPS). It is a little known but potentially critical working group formed in 2009 by the Department of Homeland Security's Office for Interoperability and Compatibility (OIC). The purpose of the working group is to address disparate video quality standards under development, with the goal of providing public safety consumers with practical working knowledge about the systems they procure and deploy.

The Public Safety Communications Research program in the Department of Commerce labs in Boulder, Colo., is the organization tasked with conducting research to support VQiPS. The working group provides input to the research team from a variety of resources. These include users of public safety video, other academic researchers involved in video quality, system manufacturers and system design professionals. Details on the organization's operations can be found at:

The membership of the working group initially consisted of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, fire and rescue departments, emergency medical services and emergency management organizations. As the early members of the working group investigated the needs of these agencies, it was identified that many similar needs existed in vertical markets such as transportation and critical infrastructures. In February 2011, a working group meeting was held in Boulder to assemble representatives of potential users of video in the public environment.

What constitutes video quality?

The research work being conducted was initially focused on the impact video transmission could present to existing signal transport networks and the possible and potential for degradation of video during signal transmission. The use of mesh networks, licensed public safety radio frequency bands and standards-based fiber networks were explored. It became clear as the working group delved deeper that the definition of video quality had many factors other than network communications issues.

One of the approaches under development is defining what are known as "use" cases. A use case is a typical video scene that has been recorded and can be used by public safety professionals that are not well-versed in video image constraints to evaluate what may be important to a specific scene. These use cases may seem simple to systems integrators who have been deploying systems for years and received their video education from the 'school of hard knocks.' However, keep in mind that public safety officials charged with developing these systems do not have the same luxury of practical learning experience. They likely will be involved with only one or two projects in their careers and a mistake in product or vendor selection could be a career-impacting decision. Additional information on the use cases can be found at:

Now you're probably thinking: "The presence of a group such as VQiPS is interesting, but how does it impact my business?" If you work with police, fire, EMS, emergency management or critical infrastructure organizations, it would be a good idea to understand the use cases that VQiPS is developing. Even if the organization you are working with is unfamiliar with VQiPS, bringing the use cases into discussions could provide support for your system design approach. The use of a document produced by a federal agency will take the system design approach you are asking the organization to consider from simply a matter of opinion from a local systems integrator to that of researched and published fact.

It is often said that an informed customer is the best customer. Consider using the VQiPS use cases to inform and educate your customer.

Paul Koebbe is a senior systems consultant with Faith Group LLC in St. Louis and a regular contributor to SD&I magazine.