Safeguarding America

Posted on July 27, 2009 at 12:07 pm by sarahsekula No Comment
Published in FirstMonday magazine, By Sarah Sekula
To most Americans, the Statue of Liberty is much more than a colossal piece of art or one of the most recognizable icons in the world. She is the stuff history lessons are made of, an amiable figure summarizing independence, enlightenment and forward momentum. She is a symbol — one of dignity and jubilance, magnified each time you glimpse at her from a plane or pass her giant stonework pedestal on a boat.

She stands for everything good in America — and everything a terrorist wants to squash.

It’s no shock, then, that this high-profile landmark has gone through some major security upgrades since the Sept. 11 attacks. What is surprising, however, is the link to Central Florida. Many of the innovative security measures used to guard the statue are produced in Apopka by ICx Imaging Systems, a business unit of ICx Technologies, which is based in Washington, D.C.

With its minimal crew, including researchers, salespeople and a smattering of genius engineers, ICx Imaging Systems has emerged as a global leader in the detection and surveillance market. And with its wide array of high-tech products, the company is hitting the sweet spot of the nation’s security needs.

One such product is ICx’s DefendIR pan-and-tilt camera (visualize Disney’s WALL-E robot with one eye being a

“visible” video camera and the other a thermal imager). Pair that with advanced sensor technologies also developed by ICx, and you’ve got a modernistic security system that watches over Liberty and Ellis islands plus other major landmarks like the Hoover Dam.

“We take the visual camera and the thermal imager and then we use our software to overlay the images on top of each other, giving the operator the most information available from both cameras,” explains Nirav Pandya, the 33-year-old president and general manager of ICx Imaging Systems.

Come Rain, Sleet or Snow

Of course, there is a good reason for the dual-head design: A thermal camera can’t see through windows, glass orwater, and a visual camera can’t see through fog, smoke, rain, dust or snow. A thermal imager can sense whether an engine block on a car is hot and a visible sensor can see inside rolled-up windows. Together, the dynamic duo produces a crisp image and boasts a strong track record of identifying potential intruders. In fact, the cameras, which sell between $15,000 and $80,000, can easily view objects like license plates or concealed weapons.

This zoom capability plus ICx’s radar system come in handy as crowds hop on the Statue of Liberty tour boats and approach the 305-foot copper-clad structure. Overall, the checkpoints run the gamut on security detection. Devices range from radiological and biological to ICx’s Fido XT explosive-detection system — also being used by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan and by the Transportation Security Administration at airports to screen carry-on bags for traces of liquid explosives.

Super-Sized Security

“By 2002, there was a significant need in the homeland security world,” says Chris Peterson, ICx vice president of sales and marketing. “We received a couple of contracts early on, one specifically for the San Diego Naval Base that put us on the map. No one realizes that in Apopka we’re making imagers that are used on Guantanamo Bay, along the border of Qatar and Kuwait, Philadelphia Harbor and the U.S.-Mexico border.”

On top of that, ICx products have become wildly popular in other areas, too, mainly due to post-9/11 security requirements. After the attacks, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission moved aggressively to secure the lifeblood of the nation’s power supply.

Not coincidentally, by 2007 ICx camera systems were in more than half the nuclear power plants across the country, including those in St. Lucie and Dade counties and the largest power plant in the nation: Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station in the Sonora Desert of Arizona, which provides electrical power to five states and 4 million-plus citizens.

At the same time, the events market has beefed up security. Take this month’s Super Bowl XLIII for example. While Bruce Springsteen was belting out tunes inside Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium, much was being done around the perimeter to protect the thousands of people in and around the stadium.

Law enforcement officials used ICx’s SkyWatch tower to ward off possible threats. The 24-foot security device, resembling a souped-up cherry picker, comes equipped with special infrared capability, surveillance equipment, generator and a PA system. It provides a 360-degree view, allowing police to see and quickly respond to problems that might develop in a crowd.

If you’ve visited SeaWorld or Walt Disney World in the past several years, you may recall seeing the SkyWatch towers dotting the parking lots. And just last month they were used at the presidential inauguration to watch over the throngs of people surrounding the nation’s Capitol. Even the New York Police Department uses SkyWatch towers during Christmas festivities in Times Square, and the New Orleans Police Department uses them to keep an eye on partiers in the French Quarter.

“In a crowd, one ground law enforcement officer can only see about 10 feet around him,” says Howard Schemer, vice president of sales and marketing for ICx Platforms, a business unit of ICx Technologies. “When you’re two stories up in the air, you can see hundreds of people.”

Constant Change

For better or for worse, the field of homeland security is on the rise. And that presents new opportunities for companies in Central Florida. Whether it is learning about ways to protect the nation or dreaming up devices that keep us safe, the field of homeland security is ever changing.

At the end of the day, though, Lynn Welch, director of marketing at ICx Imaging Systems, says one thing is certain: “We’re not selling Cheetos here. We’re making products that impact people and save lives.”

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