Security-Relate Firms In Growth Monde

February 17, 2008
| By Pete Daly |
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GRAND RAPIDS — Emerging technologies, campus security and Michigan's close proximity to Canada are all factors pointing to a potential for increasing security-related business in West Michigan, according to one of the leaders of the Michigan Homeland Security Consortium.

Our shared border with Canada will be getting "a lot more attention in the next year or two or three," relating to security implemented by the U.S. government, "not because we are afraid of the Canadians but because (Canada) has such a lax immigration policy," said Thomas Hines, the president and CEO of local security consulting and technology development firm SecureMatrix, and co-founder of the Michigan Homeland Security Consortium.

It is relatively easy for people from other parts of the world to move to Canada and live and work there — "and maybe create some mischief for the U.S.," said Hines, who serves as president of the consortium, which was launched in June 2006.

In fact, some of the terrorists who crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11 had been in Canada the previous day and crossed the border into remote northern Maine, then headed south for the airport in Boston where the highjacked flights originated.

The Michigan Homeland Security Consortium is a nonprofit organization dedicated to driving the growth of the homeland security industry throughout the state of Michigan. It serves a targeted membership of Michigan-based developers and manufacturers of products and technologies specific to U.S. Homeland Security, as well as companies and organizations active in the security industry in general.

The chairman of the consortium is Keith Brophy, president of Troy-based NuSoft Solutions, which also has a presence in West Michigan. Several consortium officers also represent high-tech companies in southeast Michigan, such as Greenview Data in Ann Arbor and GeoCritical LLC in Port Huron.

"The technologies are getting better and the costs are coming down," Hines said, even as the demand is increasing for public and private security of all types.

A lot of things that are up and coming right now in the security industry involve robotics, miniature sensor technology, biometric technology and video analytics, he said.

For example, Hine's company, SecureMatrix, is developing miniature sensor technology in security and surveillance systems with applications in law enforcement and the military, plus utility and energy companies, transportation and construction.

Improved digital cameras and sophisticated software to analyze the images is becoming very big in the security industry.

"Rather than the camera just seeing something and recording it, it can actually differentiate between things, for instance, between a human being and a deer. That would be really important for surveillance around a nuclear power plant," said Hines.

Another example would be at a port, where the camera and software could alert authorities to the approach of a small inflatable boat, while noting but ignoring passing ships in the same area.

Biometrics involves equipment that can read a person's fingerprint and recognize a particular face. Security companies like EPS and SecurAlarm integrate biometrics and video analytics in the equipment they provide their customers, according to Hines.

According to Brophy, security experts have estimated that the average American is photographed or videotaped on security cameras an average of seven times each day. He said software has been developed that can process a video stream instantaneously, searching for the facial images of persons who may be considered a threat in that location — such as a terminated employee who is no longer supposed to be on company premises.

Cell phone technology has also advanced to the point where cell phones can be used as part of a security system.

"Cell phones today, in general, are sophisticated devices that can run applications," said Brophy. "The majority of the populace walking around with cell phones really have a full fledged little computer in their hands."

Brophy's firm, NuSoft, develops software that works with existing Microsoft software to fully integrate security systems. For example, NuSoft has worked with the University of Cincinnati to develop a tracking system for all university busses on campus. According to Brophy, the university will offer each student a discount on a cell phone, which comes equipped with a global positioning system and Microsoft technology. GPS uses satellite signals to determine a receiver's precise location in latitude and longitude. It was originally developed for the U.S. military, but is now provided as a public service for people all over the world by the U.S. government, according to

The cell phone system that will be used at the University of Cincinnati will enable a student who needs to catch a campus bus late in the evening or in bad weather to determine which nearby bus stop would be his best choice.

At Ball State University, nursing students can or will soon be able to download training videos on their cell phones, said Brophy.

Brophy noted that Crayon Interface, a Holland firm that is also a member of the consortium, has developed a cell phone application that can remotely control a home security system — even to the point of locking or unlocking the doors.

Brophy said NuSoft has a "deeper safety and security application" called Guard Dog Technology. It will allow an institution such as a university to send out an urgent message to all students and faculty, and even parents of the students. The students, parents and faculty can log on to a Web site to customize the way they would receive an urgent message: on some days, it might be via cell phone, while at other times, the message may arrive in an e-mail.

Guard Dog is currently in the research and development phase, but its potential applications to a college campus are evident, based on the tragic incident at Virginia Tech last year when a killer was loose on campus but there was no immediate way to alert students to the danger.

Campus security is a major concern of parents, which has generated some business for Code Blue, which Brophy said is a division of Genzink Steel in Holland. Code Blue manufactures campus security kiosks where anyone can instantly contact the campus safety department. Code Blue, which is also a member of the Michigan Homeland Security Consortium, is "a national leader" in its product line, according to Brophy.

Hines predicts that future planning and deliberation involving proposed public projects such as malls will include "security impact statements," much like the process today usually includes environmental impact statements and traffic impact statements.

He also predicts that police in the future will be wearing live digital video cameras so that everything an officer sees and does is recorded, to enhance the officer's safety as well as the general public's safety.

"Huge liability issues will be coming to the forefront," according to Hines, in cases where organizations and institutions fail to keep up with increasing technology that permits a greater degree of safety and security.

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