Isonics tackles the sniffer market

Will Homeland Security concerns make this a more common solution?
Wednesday, March 1, 2006

COLUMBIA, Md.--Looking to capitalize on what may be the next big frontier in homeland security spending, Isonics Homeland Security & Defense Corporation in late 2005 unveiled its EnviroSecure product, which is installed at air-intake ports on facilities with HVAC systems and coordinated with the HVAC to trigger countermeasures as soon as a very low amount of a potentially hazardous airborne substance is detected. Isonics HSDC, a subsidiary of Isonics, which develops isotope-based solutions in many industries, has exclusive North American security application rights to market this use of ion mobility spectroscopy technology, patented by IUT-Berlin, a German subsidiary in which Isonics has a minority share.
The target market for this "sniffer" technology, said John Dowd, Isonics sales engineer and lead technician on the EnviroSecure product, will be "federal and government buildings, as well as commercial. In terms of terrorist targets, we're looking at indoor arenas, casinos, high-visibility buildings, malls--anywhere you're going to have a large gathering of people."
Dowd said there are currently about 150 EnviroSecure "boxes" installed in the European market, including at the German Reichstag, their parliament building. In the North American market, Dowd said, "there are a couple of buildings that I can't name."
Gil Jullien, senior engineer at SAIC Integrated Security and Systems Solutions since his 27-year-old integration company Jullien Enterprises was acquired by SAIC in 2003, said that while "sniffer technology is quite mature," "this field is one that the Department of Homeland Security is very interested in." SAIC has a major contract with DHS to test such systems, though Jullien isn't directly involved in that project.
"The trend is toward using these [sniffer] systems," Jullien said, "and I think you'll see that trend get extended." He noted that this technology has been in use in the industrial sector, like chip manufacturing, for decades. Now, however, "a lot of people are putting a lot of thought into this ... Anyplace where lots of people congregate, people are interested in it. People are very interested in it."
It has hit the mainstream consciousness, too. Writing for, Peter Huber, a fellow of the Manhattan Institute think tank, said "Brilliant techies have to perfect the sniffers, which we then have to deploy everywhere, to find the acetone, anthrax and thermal neutrons--before they find us."
Isonics vice president of marketing and sales Dennis Koehler said his product moves sniffer technology forward because it is IP-ready. Isonics works with installers to integrate the product into whatever HVAC management system a building is running so the system can be shut down immediately upon detection in the parts per billion range of nerve agents, combustible and toxic gases, and a host of other airborne threats.
"We can integrate into any control head," said Koehler, "so that's it's filtered and managed by whomever is managing the fire, the motion detectors; it's something we can integrate into something that's already designed or a building that's being designed."
"If this is engineered into the solution set, it becomes a very small piece of the puzzle, less than one percent of the cost of the overall solution," said Koehler.
Will this sniffer technology become a standard piece of a commercial or government solution? "The answer to that question is really out in the client base," said Koehler.