Long Island Business News (LIBN)
September 9, 2011
"LI companies emerge from 9/11
By John Callegari
Ten years later, local business owners still remember what they were doing when they found out their country was under siege. Many could only watch in horror on their TV screens as the Twin Towers fell from the heavens, leaving clouds of dust and debris in their wake. In that instant, everything changed.
Struggling to make sense of the incomprehensible, some Long Island companies used the terror attack as an opportunity to change their businesses and technology to ensure similar attacks never again were carried out on American soil, or if so, that emergency responders are better-equipped to handle such a disaster. Many set about to develop communication strategies and solutions that could be employed to increase access and sharing of vital information.
These are their stories.
Local leader takes charge
With the creation of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security shortly after 9/11, there became a greater need for technology and equipment to service this new federal department.
Ken Morrelly, a veteran Long Island technology and manufacturing leader, recognized the need and sought to create a facility that could nuture the growth of such companies locally. As a result, the Applied Science Foundation for Homeland Security was established.
The 90,000-square-foot building on the grounds of the Northrop Grumman Corp. in Bethpage was built using a $25 million state grant. While Morrelly pioneered the facility's development, he never saw its completion, suffering a fatal heart attack just a few months before it opened in spring 2010. The center was named in his honor. Today it holds 16 technology companies focused on homeland security.
"If there's a growing market within the homeland security field, we want to be able to help firms expand their technology and grow jobs," said Bill Wahlig, executive director of the Long Island Forum for Technology, the parent of the Morrelly Center. "We gather teams and clusters of technology firms, and then go and advocate for them to get them the things they need to be successful."
Having so many security-focused technology firms under one roof makes information sharing easy. The center has seen its business opportunities grow as more agencies have bolstered their emergency operations plans in the aftermath of 9/11.
New businesses arise
Five years ago, when the Morrelly Center was first conceived, both Balfour Technologies and Power Management Concepts were brought on as promising homeland security technology firms. The company heads saw an opportunity to combine Balfour's fourDscape visualization browser with PMC's Mission Critical Access data repository for critical documents including floor plans, standard operating procedures, images, user manuals, punch lists and transmittals, creating a comprehensive Google Earth-like mapping system, complete with infrastructure visuals of mass transit systems, buildings and other locales.
"The software contextualizes information and visualizes real-time data as it moves through time and space," said Eduardo Browne, CEO of the new joint venture, called VCORE. "The user defines the environment and brings it all to one picture. They can then enable the sharing of information among other homeland security or public safety agencies."
VCORE has gained several clients since its inception, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Anaheim Convention Center, the New York Institute of Technology and the Nassau County Police Department.
Also based in the Morrelly Center, GEOcommand emerged from the ashes of 9/11 as a communications interoperability solution for agencies that need to stay in constant contact during a disaster.
"Before 9/11, I was involved with another company focused on interoperable communications as an investor," said Albert Koenigsberg, GEOcommand's CEO and chairman of the board. "That company worked closely with various agencies in New York City. I remember seeing the people that worked there sitting at their desks as the buildings went down."
With the company's communication system down, Koenigsberg said he knew there had to be alternative means of communication in the event of a disaster. And buoyed by the Assure Emergency and Interoperable Communications for First Responders Act of 2005, which provided grant funding to state and local municipalities to enhance emergency communications capabilities, he was ready to create a communications system himself.
In 2006, he took back the technology that would be the basis for GEOcommand and spent the next five years developing the system, which allows first responders to share information such as GPS coordinates, vehicle routing information and utilities locations through the company's server module if modes of communication are knocked out.
"We've spent the last five years developing it," Koenigsberg said of the GEOcommand system. "We brought it to the market in February and now we're in a few jurisdictions in the Northeast."
However, unlike most, Koenigsberg feels 9/11 made it tougher for his business to get off the ground.
"If 9/11 didn't happen, we probably would have started selling years earlier, but we would have been more of the problem as just another barren data source company," Koenigsberg said. "Because of 9/11 we focused on the interoperability of data and that's made us who we are."
Local tech companies shift focus
New businesses weren't the only ones who saw an opportunity to help make the world safer from terrorist attacks post-9/11. Many local companies focused in one industry saw the ability to branch out and easily shift their technology to homeland security.
Prior to Sept. 11, 2001, Farmingdale-based Impact split time as a company providing public safety dispatch technology and one performing record keeping for governments and court systems. However, following the fall of the Twin Towers, which held antennas Impact had used for their dispatch operations in Westchester County, the firm decided to divest itself of its municipal record-keeping business in favor of focusing solely on public safety and homeland security.
"The two [industries] went hand-in-hand, and it was easy to shift focuses," said Dennis Labriola, president and CEO of Impact. "By 2004 we had sold off our government and court record-keeping affairs."
Impact tailored its dispatch system to meet the needs of homeland security officials who direct public safety and emergency response personnel when disaster arises. Through the company's Visual Computer Aided Dispatch system, users can configure how they want to display various types of caller, dispatch and status data, and then share that information with any other public safety agency.
And the move has been a success for Impact. Labriola said the company now has double the amount of employees it did prior working on its public safety/homeland security offerings, and, more importantly, has increased revenue since applying the focused approach.
Even Long Island's largest companies have begun trying their hands at homeland security technology since 9/11.
With locations all over the world, Farmingdale-based Telephonics has long been known for its focus on defense and military technology. After 9/11, however, the tech giant began exploring other avenues, using its experience in the military communications business to create a line of ruggedized communications systems for mass transit vehicles.
Wahlig said Telephonics' story is not uncommon.
"Many of the companies supporting the federal government and the Department of Homeland Security are companies coming out of defense contracting world," Wahlig said. "They had a series of capable products and services that they were able to transfer from defense to homeland security. The two industries are so interconnected that in most cases it has worked out very well."