A Profile in Homeland Security: Criminalistics Inc.

Federal Homeland Security money has descended on a one-story brick building in Morton, Wash., bordered by fields of grazing horses and the smaller mountains of the Cascades.

"We hit a period here after 9/11 when business died,'' said Robert "Bob'' Worsham, owner of Criminalistics Inc., as well as Morton's mayor and president of the chamber of commerce. "Congress set aside lots of money, but it didn't seem to sift down. A lot of agencies would tell me that 'We need a trailer bad, but we just don't have the money.'''

The trailers are called Suspected Item Disposal systems, or, to laymen, bomb disposal trailers. They are smaller than the average boat trailer -- 15 feet long and a bit more than 6 feet high and wide -- and weigh about 5,000 pounds. In appearance, they resemble an oversized garbage can on wheels.

A bomb technician pulls the trailer near an explosive device -- say a pack of dynamite or C-4 explosive -- unlatches the trailer, then drives out of explosive range. Using either a cord or radio control, the bomb technician operates a robotic arm to pick up the device and put it in inside the blast chamber.

"The tech can do that from 200 feet away without getting his head blown off,'' said Worsham, who is in his early 70s.

The blast chamber is made of two welded steel cylinders, one inside the other. Between the two are rubber guides (about the size and shape of six hockey pucks) and a volcanic material called perlite. The purpose of the trailer is to safely remove an explosive device to somewhere it can be safely disposed of. If there is an explosion, however, the inner chamber expands into the rubber guides and perlite, while the outside chamber is undamaged.

According to Criminalistics literature, the trailer can contain a blast equal to 33 sticks of dynamite or 20 pounds of TNT. It doesn't offer warranties (who would collect?) but has had its trailers tested by the U.S. Army National Bomb Center in Huntsville, Ala., and has not had a failure in more than 30 years.

Criminalistics sells to local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies around the country and sometimes overseas. Among it clients are Arapahoe County, Colo. (home of Columbine High School), the city of Miami, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, the presidential protective division of the U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Embassy in Oman. Before trailers are shipped, the purchasing agency sends bomb technicians to Morton for a day of training.

At the time Worsham was interviewed, Criminalistics had seven orders from cities and counties, with as many as nine more coming in the near future. Of the orders that have been coming in lately, Worsham estimates that 90 percent of them are being paid with by Homeland Security money. Collecting payment has also improved within recent years.

"The (law enforcement) agencies all had money, but they were very difficult to get a response from,'' said Worsham. ``You'd ship a lot of product, and you had to wait 90-120 days. That puts people out of business. Now, they can call on the phone and give a credit card number and place the order.''

The trailers take about two months to build, and run between $29,000 and $32,000.

Criminalistics was incorporated in Miami in 1967 as a family corporation. At the time, Worsham was in charge of the crime scene division of the Dade County Sheriff's Office. As such, he commanded the bomb squad, the photo laboratory and the crime scene technicians.

As a sideline, he started inventing products including a fingerprint powder that could be used on porous services (paper and wood) and a fingerprint brush. At a dog show, he saw a man reach under the dashboard of a vehicle and open a door that let out dogs.

"I thought about that, and thought it would be nice if we could do that from outside,'' said Worsham.

Out of that day, he invented what came to be known as the "hot dog'' system. The system can be set to roll down windows, open doors or notify a police dog officer if the temperature of a vehicle reaches an uncomfortable temperature, an important quality in Florida's hot weather.

It can also let the dogs out with a remote transmitter in case an officer is being attacked and needs help. The Hot Dog system is produced in Criminalistics' Miami office, which is run by Worsham's daughter, Jan.

In 1974, Worsham took early retirement to turn Criminalistics into a full time business. About six years ago, Worsham and his wife, Ellie, (who is originally from Seattle) relocated to Morton.

"I guess what kind of caught my attention was the scenery; the Tilton River, the hills,'' said Worsham.

The company advertises through the U.S. Police K-9 Association magazine, along with magazines that go to military and law enforcement agencies around the country. When terrorists blew up trains in Spain earlier this year, Criminalistics went through the U.S. Department of Commerce to make the Spanish government aware of its products (though no order has resulted).

Criminalistics has only six U.S. competitors in making bomb trailers -- "only three are serious'' -- and two or three in dog systems.

The business has had occasional bumps. Four years ago, Worsham received a letter from the U.S. State Department saying any foreign orders should go through it.

"I sent them a letter back,'' said Worsham. ``I said it was for improvised jobs, not military jobs. They disagreed with me pretty violently. I walked in one morning and had two customs agents waiting for me. They said you will comply and go through the State Department.''

The future looks bright for Criminalistics, which is looking to add welders.

"Right now we are on a growth pattern,'' said Worsham. "We've been approached four to six times about being purchased.''