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Consumer Reports

Fear is the sales pitch at homeland security technology summit | (KRT) ARLINGTON, Va. - Worried about bomb blasts on your patio? Stop those deadly shards of glass cold for just $500 a window with a custom-colored Teflon Safetydrape. It's a must for daycare centers, the maker says.

Want to test that ownerless backpack for plastic explosives? The $30,000 VaporTracer2 is the U.S. Navy's choice. Then there's the ultimate surveillance camera: a $300,000 refrigerator-sized device that captures color images during the day and thermal images at night.

There was something for everyone this week at the homeland security technology "summit" in a Virginia suburb of Washington. The huge exhibition hall was just around the corner from the Homeland Security Department's mock command center for terrorist attack drills, buzzing last week with an exercise in Seattle and Chicago.

Clearly companies were capitalizing on fear. Walk in one direction and there are video clips of people running for cover from World Trade Center debris. In another direction sits the latest in ocular scans to screen for "bad guys" on the government's watchlist.

To no one's surprise, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks galvanized an industry that had been steadily growing. Transportation Security Administration scientific adviser Lyle Malotky said he's bombarded with product pitches every day.

The Homeland Security Department is encouraging some of them. The Technical Support Working Group that guides its procurement is soliciting new ideas for screening people entering buildings, rapidly deploying wire barriers, neutralizing explosives and devising security illumination systems that don't rely on visible light.

The hawkers may not look like used car salesmen, but their persistence can be just as tiring. Kevin Igelski of Bio-Imaging Research, Inc., cornered Malotky to talk about a three-dimensional imaging machine his Lincolnshire, Ill.-based firm makes. Before Malotky could politely turn away, Igelski had his card out and a pen to jot down a name for a contact in the new department.

Security salesmanship "obviously has ramped up over the years as people realized that security was more important," Malotky said warily.

In many cases, the new devices might have dual uses. A gamma ray light bulb used in medical imaging might, its promoters said, also be used along with a cargo X-ray machine to detect terrorists, explosives or weapons in trucks or containers.

The bulb makers, Varian Medical Systems of Palo Alto, Calif., realized that their medical equipment had a "dual use" and are now meeting with officials in the Homeland Security Department, one sales rep said.

"For better or for worse, world events drive sales," said Paul Morlock, sales rep for explosive and narcotics detection systems at Ion Track, a division of General Electric based in Wilmington, Mass.

Morlock added, "It's a bittersweet business world."

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© 2003, Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services