Security technology firms find strong growth in Mexico

MEXICO CITY - The bad guys have come up with countless ways to assault, rob, threaten, maim and even kill the good people of Mexico City.

With crime a fixation for residents here, there is money to be made for a business who can help protect Mexico City residents from the dangers they face every day.

Safety-conscious (and usually well-to-do) residents started with private security guards, closed-circuit cameras and alarms. But as the criminals raise their game, so have the companies showing their wares at this year's Security Expo.

With an array of gadgets that would impress the crew on "CSI," company representatives had a message for the city's criminals: Bring it on.

"You have to be on the cutting edge in the face of all these crooks," said Misael Bravo, systems manager for Uno Technology. "Otherwise, they have the advantage."

Case in point: Bravo's company sells a closed-circuit camera that can be installed in a business or even a car in order to send live video feeds to a client's cell phone.

To illustrate, he showed a feed from a clothing store in Guadalajara, Mexico. The devices cost about $2,500, and he already has received about 600 orders.

Many Mexicans, he said, can't relax unless they know their cars, homes or businesses are safe. That means keeping tabs, even if they are in bed or at dinner.

Eric Jackson, applications engineer for the California-based FLIR Systems on his first visit to Mexico City, said he was struck by the electric fences and guards at so many homes. That led him to think that the locals aren't satisfied with measly security cameras.

Enter FLIR's thermal infrared imaging cameras that detect body heat from a potential intruder. Normally used by law enforcement or the military, FLIR last year began selling the product to commercial clients.

Mexico City, he says, could be a gold mine.

It's hard to say how much of this focus on security in Mexico is based on reality.

A study from the Citizens Institute for the Study of Insecurity found that a quarter of Mexico City residents said they had been crime victims in 2005. And Mexico had higher per-capita rates of violent robbery than the U.S. or any European nation, according to a UN survey released Wednesday.

At the same time, tawdry television shows and tabloid newspapers love to splash grisly photos of the latest murders and stoke the fears of residents.

"Generally, the Mexican's perception of insecurity is worse than the reality. It is exaggerated," said Luis de la Barreda, the institute's executive director. "In any case, however, we are experiencing a very difficult situation."

Sandra Hernandez, editor of Xtrem Secure, a Mexican magazine that covers the security industry, said many security firms are seeing annual revenue increases approach 25 percent.

At the Security Expo last week, companies from around the world were seeking to offer Mexicans a much-needed sense of security. And to get a cut of the pie.

Seog Woo Lee, president of the Korean-owned Wintech, had been marketing a film coating for windows that would make them difficult to break.

In most countries, clients put them on their home windows to deter intruders in place of bars. But in Mexico, Seog said, carjackings are so prevalent that he has found a new market for drivers worried about getting ambushed at stoplights.

"If you hit the glass 100 times, of course it will break," he said. "But this glass protects you so that, by the third time, you have time to drive away to safety."

And at the Guibor booth, general manager Gadi Mokotov was showing off a finger scanner that is mounted on a car dashboard. To start the vehicle, a user must insert his or her finger so the device can read the fingerprint.

He said the Touch-N-Drive had an extra layer of security, particularly useful in Mexico, that also required a certain level of heat from the finger before the car could start.

But why was that necessary?

"In Mexico, people will cut off fingers and try to start the car that way," he said.

Mokotov said he was confident that he would find Mexican customers who placed enough value on their cars, and their fingers, to buy his product.


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