Nov. 29--Twenty years ago, the best you could hope for in an automated security system was a noisy alarm to discourage a burglar from breaking a window and maybe some grainy black-and-white video of a convenience store robbery suspect.
But today's surveillance systems -- at least to the non-tech savvy -- seem the stuff of science fiction.
Cameras in airports have software that helps them identify bags that have been left unattended, so such matters are no longer left to the eye of a security guard. Digital images of crime suspects can be sent wirelessly to police officers while they're en route to the scene, rather than captured hours after the crime occurred. Even the grade-school bully can get caught delivering a sucker punch on the big yellow bus. Not by the driver, who will be watching the road, but on a strategically placed digital camera.
As privacy concerns make way for security needs, the number of surveillance systems keeping watch will continue to grow.
Communication Systems Inc., a 33-year-old technology company on Third Street in Allentown, has found a growing market in helping governments, hospitals, schools and businesses navigate the maze of emerging technologies to develop such systems that protect people and property.
The improving technology has helped the company grow, in size and in focus, from its humble beginnings installing audio systems in churches and businesses. Today, its nearly 50 employees include technicians and engineers. They design and install door-opening systems used in prisons and surveillance systems for school districts and hospitals.
"In this field and in this industry, you're only limited by your imagination and your budget," said Charles Thiel, the CSI's general manager.
It is a private company that does not reveal its financial information. CSI has 1,500 clients in the mid-Atlantic region, but it keeps their names confidential. One of its biggest new clients is the city of Allentown, which launched a camera surveillance crime-fighting effort last year.
CSI got the contract to install the cameras and design the network through a competitive bid. That network of 36 cameras will soon double in size with the help of a $400,000 federal grant. And other municipalities, such as Bethlehem, are looking to cameras to assist their police departments.
The cameras alone are not a cure-all, but they are a valuable tool in law enforcement, said Allentown Police Capt. Daniel Warg. Often, the cameras become witnesses where police otherwise would have none. And even if they don't catch the crime, they can capture images of people or vehicles passing through nearby intersections, which become leads for detectives, he said.
CSI has been delivering a great product to us at a great price," Warg said. "We found a local vendor who is in the city of Allentown, which is good because if there is a problem, they are on top of it right away and we don't have to wait for someone to come up from Philadelphia or something."
For CSI, such positive customer feedback has been key to its growth.
"Most of our growth has been through word-of-mouth referrals," said Wayne Becker, the company's vice president of business development.