Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Technology companies showed off their latest wizardry yesterday at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center as they sought some of the federal security funds that grew by an additional $5.6 billion last week.

The Security Tech Expo featured many technologies for either remotely identifying potential terrorists or responding to the damage they do.

In its first year as a federal agency, the Department of Homeland Security focused on purchasing off-the-shelf security technology. This year, the department’s Office of Science and Technology is using its $913 million budget more creatively.

“A significant part of its budget is dedicated to developing next-generation technologies,” said Valerie Smith, Homeland Security spokeswoman.

In addition, Congress last week approved Project BioShield, a $5.6 billion program to stockpile vaccines and other medicines to protect Americans from biological and chemical weapons.

On Monday, the U.S. Health and Human Services Department announced $24 million in grants for hospitals in the District, Maryland and Virginia to prepare for bioterrorism or other attacks that could produce mass casualties.

The technologies at the Security Tech Expo included a “regenerative filter” that could be used to clean the air of biological, chemical or nuclear toxins. It is regenerative because it heats and vaporizes toxins trapped by filters instead of merely holding them in place.

The developers, the British company Dominick Hunter Inc., envision using it at military or government sites most likely to be attacked by invisible but deadly toxic weapons.

“It’s the only system that cleans itself,” said Micheal Davis, Dominick Hunter’s vice president of protective systems. “You don’t have to have somebody handle it.”

The system eliminates the need for protective suits and the decontamination required for traditional carbon filters.

At a nearby booth, Alexandria-based Sentel Corp. demonstrated a “Remote Data Relay” system that can monitor as many as 400 remote sensors, including the kind that detect biological, chemical or nuclear weapons.

It also sends alarms to human monitors when “toxicity” is detected.

Sentel officials say the system could monitor sensors over a wide area, such as throughout cities or at military installations.

“You don’t need to be an engineer to use this,” said David P. Christovich, Sentel’s manager of business development. “If you can hook up a computer, you can use it.”

Metro uses a chemical and biological sensor to protect Washington area transit riders from bioterrorism.

Several government agencies sent representatives to the conference.

Among them was Darin Goodwiler, deputy regional director of the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Protective Service, which provides security for government buildings.

He was particularly interested in “thermal imaging cameras” displayed at the booths.

“You can see things in low light and no light,” Mr. Goodwiler said.

If a suspicious person is hiding in a darkened area, “You can see them just from the heat they are giving off,” he said.

The expo’s sponsors, ADT Security Systems Inc., said they were pleased with the quality of the technology displayed, but slightly disappointed by the turnout.

About 650 people are attending the two-day conference, which continues today. Last year, about 1,000 attended, ADT officials said.

“There’s a lot of Homeland Security shows going on around town,” said Paul J. Brisgone, an ADT vice president. “I think people are a little bit showed out.”

ADT, an Alexandria-based company that holds several government security contracts, is one of the competitors for the new federal funds.

“It used to be you’d have maybe five or six companies bidding on a project,” Mr. Brisgone said. “Now you have 30 or 40.”

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