BEAVERTON, Ore. — The threat of terrorism has boosted military and corporate interest in high-tech security improvements at all levels, even turning something as simple as a chain-link fence into a sophisticated surveillance system.
Fiber SenSys makes a virtually undetectable system of fiber optic cables that can withstand extreme climates, radio jamming, magnetic interference, harsh chemicals and flooding.
After it is hooked up to a fence, the Fiber SenSys equipment can sense the slightest motion by an intruder, alert guards and pinpoint any attempted breach.
Not surprisingly, the military came knocking at the Beaverton company’s door after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and recently awarded Fiber SenSys a $1.7 million contract to provide the high-tech security system for use by the U.S. Air Force.
Fiber SenSys says it can’t reveal where exactly the equipment will be used or how.
“We can’t associate individual locations with the technology for security reasons,” said Duane Thompson, vice president of sales and marketing at Fiber SenSys, which is based in Beaverton and is a subsidiary of CompuDyne Corp.
Last November, the Pentagon put out the word it is interested in acquiring more high-tech surveillance equipment than it already had to help in the war on terrorism.
“Because of the times, there is more interest in security,” said Glenn Flood, a Pentagon spokesman. “The bottom line is they (the branches of the armed forces) all want high-tech stuff.”
That interest is turning into orders for equipment by the military, utilities, big companies and others.
Some of the top names on the Forbes magazine list of the nation’s wealthiest people are already using fiber optic systems to bolster security at their homes and estates, Thompson said.
Much of the new security technology is coming from small companies that can quickly adapt the basic research of private inventors or universities to the market, said Ken Morse of the MIT Sloan School of Management.
“Generally speaking, corporate America has outsourced innovation to the venture capital industry,” Morse said. “Except for Hewlett-Packard and IBM, I wouldn’t look for major innovation from big corporate America.”
Morse said that as a result of Sept. 11, investment in security technology is likely to increase and bring in venture capital firms seeking another fast-growth industry to replace the dot-com bust.
“It’s just got a booster rocket stuck on it right now,” Morse said of the interest in security technology.
Debra Logan, an analyst for the Gartner Group, said efforts to improve security will drive changes in computer data transmission and personal identification, beginning with government agencies and the military.
“The first wave of government activity will be matched by a corporate response as the civilian sector moves to protect itself and will pick up speed as economic conditions improve,” Logan said.
Another small high-tech company in Oregon, FLIR Systems Inc., is among the firms getting more business after Sept. 11.
In fact, says FLIR Systems spokesman Jim Fitzhenry, the war on terrorism has helped turned around the Portland-based company, which had been struggling.
FLIR Systems makes thermal imaging equipment that can “see” through fog, smoke and darkness. FLIR has been selling the equipment to the military for years and it is probably being used by U.S. forces in Afghanistan, although FLIR won’t say so for security reasons.
“We can tell you that the U.S. Marine Corps is a very good customer of ours,” Fitzhenry said. “Their entire fleet of Huey helicopters is equipped with our technology for nighttime operations, search and rescue, and navigational safety.”
FLIR systems have also been used on Blackhawk helicopters and P-3 surveillance aircraft.
Last November, FLIR Systems announced it had landed $25 million in new military contracts from the air forces of Britain and Australia, along with other customers.
Whether it is the military, an oil company, a county courthouse or even homeowners, security is only going to get tighter, said Martin Roenigk, chief executive of CompuDyne, the Maryland-based parent company of Fiber SenSys.
“What we’re finding is that companies which used to be comfortable with grocery store level security — call in a guard service, put up some cameras and a fence — realize they have to move up,” Roenigk said.
On the Net:
CompuDyne Corp.: http://www.compudyne.com
FLIR Systems Inc.: http://www.flir.com