Security gizmos can get extreme

Toxic gas detectors that resemble tiny pagers and fit comfortably on your belt. “Life shirts” that measure your vital signs as you work. Twelve-pound body armor made for you by the Russians. And a yurt.

Those were some of the wondrous contraptions — both cutting-edge and centuries old — on display this week at the Homeland & Global Security Summit in Washington.

All were billed as one piece of the answer to everything from preventing and detecting a terror attack to helping a community destroyed by natural disaster.

And most were presented by U.S. and foreign companies vying for a piece of the $150 billion pot to be spent this year on just such priorities by the U.S. departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and Health and Human Services.

Among those slated to attend the two-day event were representatives of the American Red Cross; the Columbus, Ohio, police department; the Pentagon’s Defense Threat Reduction Agency; the Indiana state government; and the embassies of France, Poland, Bosnia and Italy.

One brand-new product presented was a polyurethane-related membrane developed by paint giant Sherwin-Williams Co. that prevents shrapnel from an explosion from penetrating internal walls. On the market only since January, it already has drawn interest from the Air Force and commercial vehicle manufacturers, and a sale to the state of Maryland, about which national sales manager Ed Purdue could say little due to security concerns.

“It’s an application I can’t really talk about,” he said.

Brent Roden, of the Ventura, Calif.-based VivoMetrics Government Services company, faced no such restrictions about discussing his firm’s “Life Shirt,” which just has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

This strap-on device monitors the blood pressure, body temperature and even toxic exposure of hazmat teams, miners and fire fighters to minimize casualties among such “first responders.”

“They’re monitoring while in the middle of an event,” Roden said.

Also drawing attention was a miniature helicopter-and-camera hybrid, developed for use by Hollywood moviemakers and now on the “wish list” of the FBI and the military’s Special Operations Command, according to Alex Martinez, of the Los Angeles-based Coptervision company.

“After Sept. 11, we got a knock on the door from the FBI,” which was interested in the small, unmanned craft’s utility for surveillance, Martinez said. The craft is capable of locking onto a car’s license plate and following the vehicle for as long as an hour.

Nearby, Russian trade representative Andrey Soroka bragged about the superiority of his company’s body armor, which is for sale to U.S. police departments and security firms. Made of steel and ceramic plates, “the quality is better than others,” he said. The most futuristic device on display was the “Trauma Pod,” an unmanned medical surgery system under development by SRI International of Menlo Park, Calif. If all goes smoothly, doctors and nurses far from the front will use the technology to guide robotic arms to expose, clean and even sew up a battle wound, said Bob Chiralo, the program’s manager. The target date for the product: 2025.

At the other end of the technology scale at the conference was a decidedly low-tech yurt _ a portable hut covered with sheepskin that nomadic herders of the central Asian republic of Kyrgyzstan have used for centuries, lugging them via horses from one camp to another.

A skilled herder can erect the all-natural structure in 20 minutes, and fold it up in seven. It’s impervious to rain and earthquakes and perfect as simple and affordable temporary shelter for victims of hurricanes or other disasters.

Unlike other exhibitors, Kyrgyzstan’s intent in bringing the yurt to the conference was not to make money. Instead, it was to share the technology in hopes that it could be used to help the homeless of Hurricane Katrina or other future disasters, said Kubanych Takybashkev, assistant to the Kyrgyz ambassador in Washington.

“Sometimes you need to look back to basics for answers,” he said.

(Contact Lisa Hoffman at HoffmanL(at)