Convention Security Goes High-Tech

Submachine gun, check. Semiautomatic pistol, check. Personal digital assistant, check.

In addition to their usual weaponry, some officers responsible for securing federal buildings at the Republican convention are armed with devices like handheld computers.

The gadgets are part of a wireless arsenal the Federal Protective Service (search) is using to create an instantaneous flow of images between officers on patrol and those manning monitoring stations at a command center in an undisclosed location.

Helmets and vehicle dashboards with digital video cameras are also on hand to expand the coverage provided by cameras atop federal buildings.

"It allows us to have a complete situational awareness of what's going on the street," said FPS New England Regional Director Ron Libby, who is overseeing security for some 30 Manhattan-area buildings where federal employees work.

Standing at a cubicle with two side-by-side monitors, Libby explained the need for the technology as a technician used a joystick to zoom in on a woman in a pink shirt and white skirt 30 stories below the camera that was tracking her.

"The description we want to give to our officers is very, very specific," Libby said as he listed off small identifying features like jewelry and a wrist watch. "We don't want multiple people wearing pink and white to be arrested."

FPS controls the technology, but Libby said it is available to other security outfits like the Secret Service and New York Police Department when they need it.

The system uses Web browser-based technology that allows various agencies to access the video feed without having special software, said Jamie Edgar, senior vice president of LiveWave Inc., which developed the system.

The company has provided similar systems to the Boston Police Department, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, Edgar said.

The FPS has had the project in the works for about a year and it cost between $500,000 and $1 million, Libby said. It was first deployed in July at the Democratic National Convention in Boston, where Libby was also in charge.

He said it came in handy more than a few times. In one instance officers were able to quickly dispel reports that parachutists had landed on top of a federal building.

"Our cameras were on it within about 10 seconds," Libby said.

FPS officers on patrol in Lower Manhattan on Monday said they were excited about the new technology that they had seen their colleagues using.

"I think it's awesome," said Lt. Col. Doug Wisnioski, who was brought in from Miami for the convention. "It kind of brings us into the 21st century."