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Homeland security companies experience success and growth in low-ranking counterterrorism state

By Rhett Wilkinson, Contributor  |  Posted Aug 28th, 2011 @ 3:15pm

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SALT LAKE CITY -- Though they were developed with various backgrounds, three local homeland security companies have developed ways to succeed in a low-ranking counter-terrorism state, while another is promising the same as it goes on the market within a year's time.

D-tect, OPSGEAR and Credibility Assessment Technologies were recognized as businesses that represent Utah well in terms of homeland security development, despite the fact that Utah ranks 42nd out of 50 states in the number of domestically focused counter-terrorism and homeland security organizations. The ranking is according to the Washington Post study “A hidden world, growing beyond control,” a two-year research project investigating what the publication described as the “fourth branch of government.”

Utah compared to the nation

Utah is one of seven states tied for 37th overall in organizations established or newly involved in counter-terrorism since 9/11, the report said. In dollar amount, the state ranked 42nd in the 2009 fiscal year for federal homeland security spending and 38th in domestic preparedness and anti-terrorism programs. Measured per capita, the state ranked 49th overall in federal government expenditures.

Utah by the numbers
  • Utah is 1 of 7 states tied for 37th in organizations involved in counter-terrorism.
  • Fiscally, Utah ranked 42nd in 2009 fiscal year for federal homeland security spending.
  • Per capita, Utah ranked 49th overall in federal government expenditures.
  • Utah is 1 of 8 states that had a counter-terrorism organization before 9/11.
  • On a federal level, the FBI's SLC Field Intelligence Group leads the state threat intelligence effort.

Utah’s homeland security apparatus was first formed in preparation for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. However, a Salt Lake City Joint Terrorism Task Force was established before 9/11, making it one of eight states with an organization that started working on homeland security and counter-terrorism before that day, according to the report. The U.S. attorney has since chaired the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council in Salt Lake City since that time.

The report laid out how the state is involved with counter-terrorism intelligence. Utah is a member of the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center and the Rocky Mountain Information Network. At the federal level, the FBI’s Salt Lake City Field Intelligence Group leads the state threat intelligence effort. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Field Intelligence Group in Denver has jurisdiction over Utah.

Weapon detection

D-tect President Morgan Taylor is encouraged by the attraction counter-terrorism and law enforcement officials have toward devices that detect both nuclear and dirty bomb threats.

“There’s a lot of growth potential with this company,” Taylor said of the private entity, a division of VPI Engineering. “There are many international markets and an international need. There is an awareness of (D-tect) in Asia, in the Middle East, and the need is growing.”

Since its inception in the spring of 2001 when the Mission Research Corporation contracted with VPI to create a company entirely focused on radiation detection devices (not necessarily in direct response to 9/11), D-tect has sold over 9,000 such devices to more than 1,000 unique customers in most states in the U.S. as well as various countries throughout Europe, Asia, South America and the Middle East. The sales have resulted in a share of more than 20 percent of VPI’s overall revenue. Other branches of VPI include engineering, which comprises approximately 70 percent of the overall revenue, as well as manufacturing and robotics, Taylor said.

While Taylor revealed the cash-flow share of D-tect in regards to its umbrella company, he said that he is “not in line” to release D-tect’s top consumer agencies specifically.

We go out of our way to make sure our products don't get in the wrong hands.

–Morgan Taylor

“It’s safe to say they are fairly big customers,” he said.

The company’s main U.S. distributor for D-tect is located in Baltimore and international distributors are found in China, Korea, Japan and India, among other locations.

Interior distributors in the Middle East include locations in Dubai and the United Arab Emirates.

The company doesn’t view Europe as a target market, although the company makes “occasional sales” there, Taylor said, though he was unwilling to specify exact sales on the continent or to other markets.

The company’s products have not been limited to the war zones, however. Many of D-tect’s devices have been used as props for episodes of “CSI Miami” and “NCIS.”

“The devices aren’t used even close to the right way, but it was fun to see that we have a presence to the point where these shows want to use our equipment,” Vice President Gary Olsen said.

Much of the company’s recent activity has been involved in an effort to shield residents of Fukushima, Japan, and other nearby cities from the harmful radiation that has permeated the area since the three hydrogen explosions of the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power Station plants following the magnitude 9 earthquake in the region on March 11.

Olsen traveled to the Fukushima area in April to provide the LDS Church with 10 basic radiation detectors to use in its wards and branches nearest to the plant. The church, which is distributing the devices to the nearest schools to the plant, bought 20 more to survey local ground which, in some places, needs to be dug 2½ inches in order to free it from infection.

The nearest school currently in use is located in Iwaki, just less than 15 miles from the plant.

“There’s certainly a pride level of understanding that you’re helping (Japanese citizens) go about their lives,” Olsen said.

One precaution the company must take is avoiding unknowingly selling to the likes of terrorist organizations. Taylor said the company is contracted with the Department of Commerce who monitors the imports and exports of radiation-related products across various countries. The department must approve any sales D-tect makes before the product gets shipped.

“We go out of our way to make sure our products don’t get in the wrong hands,” Taylor said.

Combat training of all types

Outside of a massive retail production effort that includes a series of weapon commodities, knives, a variety of how-to's and documentary DVDs and dozens of military-flavor shirt varieties, the main mission for OPSGEAR founder and CEO David Burnell and his team is to provide specialized, simulated combat training to the military, law enforcement and even citizens.

Not bad for a now-multimillion dollar entity that began in Burnell’s garage.

“You can talk all day about what you’re going to do in combat, but we do it,” said Burnell, who served on active duty for the U.S. Air Force for 11 years beginning in the 1980s.

Indeed, OPSGEAR’s Urban Warfare Center has trained thousands of military types, including soldiers, airmen and Marines, since Burnell took the operation from his garage and the $6,000 in his pocket, where the company stood the summer before 9/11, to its current location in North Salt Lake.

Group training can cost between $1,500 and $2,000, with a personal citizen session costing between $60 and $80. Eighty-five to 90 percent of its retail sales come from the United States, with the remainder coming primarily from Europe and Canada.

Locally, 60 percent of first-time customers return to OPSGEAR’s retail store in North Salt Lake, said Brandy Vega, vice president of media and communications.

I was expecting them to rough us up a little bit, but nowhere near the ferocity that intensity that we went through. But we had to appreciate what it's like to endure in that type of world.

–Adam Abram

Burnell said that members of the West Valley City police force who were involved in the double shooting near a swap meet in their city late last month had trained at the Urban Warfare Center days before the murder-suicide occurred at 3952 W. 3500 S. It is also not uncommon to find personnel who have either served in Afghanistan and Iraq or have done so since training at the facility.

"It’s the center’s reputation for real-life combat that attracts such personnel," Burnell said.

“You can get pelted with rubber bullets going 200 miles per hour,” he added. “And the role players can be playful one moment, and mean and nasty the next.”

The company hasn’t kept itself from the Hollywood spotlight, either. In 2008, four actors who played Navy SEALs in the film “The Eleventh Hour” undertook a day’s worth of boot camp to learn the ways of the likes of those who took down Osama bin Laden May 2. Burnett subjected them to an intense series of crawling and rolling in mud, correct break-in and approach procedures and an interrogation trial run to give the actors a taste of the life of the roles they would be portraying.

“I was expecting them to rough us up a little bit, but nowhere near the ferocity that intensity that we went through,” actor Adam Abram said of the experience. “But we had to appreciate what it’s like to endure in that type of world.”

Burnell said that the company’s growth can be attributed to nothing more than integrity and innovative training and marketing from those who have experienced live combat. Vice President of Sales John West has a Green Beret following 22 months of service in the Middle East.

“The message we portray is that we provide arenas with people who have the capability of doing this,” West said. “That’s a message that needs to get out there.”

Such an effort has been made. The company has received 37,000 “likes” on Facebook, and 200 new Facebook visitors per day. Additionally, OPSGEAR has garnered more than 6,000 YouTube subscribers and 12,000 unique visits to its website,, contributing to 3 million total visitors to the website per month.

Lie detection

Although Don Sanborn estimates that Credibility Assessment Technologies still has another six months to one year before the company’s lie-detection product, the Ocular-Motor Deception Test, will be on the market, the entrepreneur is excited about what he’s seeing.

They estimate that they will reach $40 to $60 million revenue within three to five years the product is on the market, following an estimated $300,000 of initial funding.

“The technology is very intriguing,” said Sanborn, who is responsible for coordinating the project into the corporate world. “That’s what impressed me first, along with the credibility of the science team here.”

People were losing jobs because of poor polygraphs... The product should be a supplement to the polygraph. But instead of receiving long readouts of physiological signals (through the polygraph), John (Kircher) has taught a computer to do it.

–Don Sanborn

University of Utah professors and students alike have been a part of that team. For five years, educational psychology professor John Kircher has been credited with continuing to develop a technology, in ODT, that builds on a cognitive load theory that comes from the mind of Princeton professor and 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics champion Daniel Kahneman.

Namely, as an individual thinks harder, his pupil enlarges. Measuring eye movement 60 times per second, the ODT predicates how much the participant thinks based on the machine’s detection of pupil enlargement.

Being able to measure this goes a long way toward determining an individual’s truthfulness regarding any particular question they are asked, be it a marijuana user responding to an inquiry from a potential employer about their usage of the drug in the past few weeks, or in discerning who may have ties to terrorist organizations, graduate student Brian Khulman said. If they’re thinking of a way to adjust what they know is the actual answer, the pupil will have the same effect as it would if the subject was thinking intensely on a math test, he said.

“This new technology is amazing in the way it can make a diagnosis,” Khulman said.

It is potentially more useful because of its efficiency to make reads as quickly as 20 to 30 minutes --brief when compared with the polygraph, the tool federal government offices use today, he added.

Polygraphs have been used regularly by businesses since the 1970s, but they can take up to two to three hours per use and are typically only used just twice per day. A typical polygraph test costs $970, Sanborn said.

Though both Sanborn and Khulman said that is where the new product comes into play, they don’t intend to market the device as something that will replace the polygraph completely.

“People were losing jobs because of poor polygraphs,” Sanborn said.

“The product should be a supplement to the polygraph,” he added. “But instead of receiving long readouts of physiological signals (through the polygraph), John (Kircher) has taught a computer to do it.

“Perhaps companies will think they only will need to rely on this technology (ODT) now… but that’s their decision.”

Sanborn said that Credibility Assessment Technologies has received a number of grants in the recent years for its development of ODT, including a $50,000 USTAR grant in December 2009, a $40,000 Center of Excellence grant from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development in April of this year and a TCP/IP gifting of $40,000 last month.



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