The security week that was: 12/04/09

Cool technology for security
Mobile chem detector for the iPhone and a Kenyan emergency system platform

An acquaintance of mine always runs with an iPod strapped to his bicep as he slugs out those Saturday morning miles. Attached to the iPod is a small receiver that picks up signals from a little chip he wears in his shoe. It's a little kit from Nike, and it takes the iPod or the iPhone into the realm of fitness training so it can measure his pace and speed. From what he tells me, it's become quite the hit for techie runners. Not to be outdone, so it seems, NASA research scientist Jing Li has developed a sensor that could be attached to an iPhone (or presumably the iTouch as well) that could detect the presence of dangerous chemicals and then use the device's communications availability to alert responders. The next step would be to take that information and use the phone's GPS technology to pinpoint the source of the threat automatically.

It's a wild idea and it raises all sorts of personal privacy issues, like do you want your GPS data sent to some response authority when it's just a false alert, or if it triggered off some regular household chemical? But what I think this work by Li does is illustrate a future point at which citizens and consumer technology can become extensions of security technology -- assuming that the citizen gives their permission. This is a powerful thing. We've seen this happen in the world of financial trading, when sites like E*Trade put stock trading in the hands of citizens rather than specialized brokers. We've seen the Facebook and Twitter crowd-sourcing explosion, where all of a sudden the citizens no longer need gatekeepers like TV anchors to share their information on a mass scale. Could security technology go that direction? I think it's entirely possible.

Speaking of crowd-sourcing, we reported this morning about the investment from the Omidyar Network (a philanthropic investment firm launched by Ebay founder Pierre Omidya) into Ushahidi. Ushahidi is an organization that has developed a crowd-source based emergency alert network that has been used around the world and which could be the first open-source emergency notification system. There's a video at the bottom of our story on this investment; it's worth your time to watch if you like thinking about future technology (and I know you do!).

Security in the aviation world
A not-so-promising cargo security report and tough times for a TSA nominee

A new report published by USA Today, obtained somehow from the DHS, alleges that cargo security is more vulnerable than it needs to be and that attempts to implement security for air cargo have not been especially effective. At issue were perimeter security weaknesses, access control weaknesses, lack of background checks and more. The concern is that air cargo is often shipped on the same planes that transport you and me.

Also on the TSA front: Despite initial confirmation from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee of Erroll Southers, a candidate/nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Transportation Security Administration, a new threat to Southers' confirmation has arisen in the form of South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint (a Republican), who is objecting to what he believes is Southers' stance on unionization. DeMint alleges that Southers will open the doors for unionization of TSA screeners, and his argument is that such a move will lessen the effectiveness of the screeners. It's destined to be a hot button political issue and may devolve into bi-partisan fighting.

In other news:
NICE deal with Orsus explained; Get a video reality check; Mace unloads debt; Alarm response times

NICE's public safety division president Chris Wooten shared his thoughts on how the acquisition of "situation management" firm Orsus will fit into NICE's broader security portfolio. Chris seems convinced that situation management stands to be potentially more important than plain CCTV in the next decade – at least for large organizations, businesses and government operations.

Our "Video Surveillance Reality Check" series continues to stir a lot of readership; we've now had pieces by Bosch's Dr. Bob Banerjee (overall view, part 1); B&H Photo Video's Ari Erenthal (the distributor/retailer's view on selling CCTV) and NVT's Guy Apple (on the cabling and connectivity perspective). We're coming back next week with a piece by industry blogger, product reviewer and analyst John Honovich.

Dennis Raefield is getting MACE Security closer to being debt free, and that means they're selling some of the old car wash business (yes, you read that correctly). The company has acquired a central station and revamped its product line in the last 12 months; these are significant changes for the company and Raefield seems determined to make the company a really serious player in the industry.

Finally, if you really want to know where alarm calls might rank in a big city that is challenged by police response times, then read this positively scary piece from Atlanta's newspaper (the AJC) about response times to real crimes like domestic battery. I hope your Atlanta customers don't believe the police are going to get to that false alarm call within 5 or 10 minutes...