Antiterror Level Down; High-Tech Firms Seek Funds


The U.S. terror alert level is being lowered one step today to yellow, the Associated Press reports. Airports and airlines will keep their high alert status. The move suggests that the threat of attacks on U.S. targets has abated.

The U.S. Homeland Security Department ranks threats by colors, with green at the bottom followed by blue, yellow, orange, and red as perceived dangers intensify. The level was raised to orange–the second-highest–on Dec. 21. It never has dipped below yellow, an “elevated” risk.

In Las Vegas this week, 80 high-tech firms are showcasing their security-related software and hardware, everything from facial recognition and retinal scanning devices to data mining and anti-hacker programs, says The companies are at the third annual Government Convention on Emerging Technology, a three-day event hosted by the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security and several private interests. One highlight: A terrorist threat simulation in a city already on high alert because of the federal orange alert.

Technology firms are scrambling to pocket some of the billions of dollars in federal anti-terrorism grants flowing to state and local governments. This year’s Homeland Security budget includes $1.7 billion for state and local governments to pay for planning, equipment, and training to prevent and respond to terrorist attacks. Law enforcement agencies across the nation will receive another $500 million for information sharing technology or advanced communications equipment. Another $2.2 billion was announced by the Department of Homeland Security last fall to help protect state and local governments protect critical infrastructure, and $725 million was given to high-risk urban areas.

“Technology vendors and service providers have been disappointed that most of the state and local grant funding to date has been for ‘suits and boots’ and first responder salaries,” according a November 2003 issue of Homeland Security TechWatch from a company called Input. “However, more opportunities will open to technology contractors in the future. Look for the nature of the spending to change over the next two years as the need for manpower, facilities and basic equipment is met and governments move to install more sophisticated systems.”

Some tech companies are aggressively hawking their products to state and local officials. Missouri’s chief information officer, Gerry Wethington, said he could spend his whole day on the phone fielding sales calls. Wethington receives eight to 10 phone offers a day from companies of all size promising security solutions for the state.

Not all companies are cut out for the homeland security market. In the hurry to close deals, many have not bothered to do their homework about states’ homeland security plans, Wethington said. And some companies are simply repackaging products as security applications, he said. “Unfortunately, some them were touting themselves as homeland security companies, but had never been in that business before.”


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