OCEAN SPRINGS — X-ray vision to see underneath people’s clothes is no longer in the domain of science fiction. In fact, Ferson Technologies in Ocean Springs is in production with its $100,000 Rapiscan Systems Secure 1000, an x-ray system used at courtrooms, prisons, airports and military installations to find weapons hidden under clothing.
Saddam Hussein walked through the Secure 1000 each day when entering the courtroom for his trial in Iraq. And although it isn’t yet being used at U.S. airports, the Secure 1000 is used in airports in other areas of the world such as the airport in Heathrow, England.
The Secure 1000 is a personnel x-ray system as opposed to a machine used to check baggage or freights, said Louis Peters, president of Ferson Technologies. The device is about the size of a refrigerator, and where it is used, it eliminates the need for a “pat down” by security officers. It can pick up not just metal, but plastic explosives, narcotics, plastic knives and most other things that aren’t allowed in a secure area.
The machine uses a very small dose of radiation, 10,000 microrems.
“You get more radiation when flying at 35,000 feet or getting an x-ray at the doctor’s office,” Peters said. “This detects not only metals, but plastic and liquid explosives. We have been selling them to airports overseas and military installations. The problem is the ACLU doesn’t want them in U.S. airports, which is our targeted market. The reason the ACLU doesn’t want them is a privacy issue. You are actually looking under people’s clothing. It demonstrates a bare person.”
To deal with the privacy issues oversees, a male operator looks at the screen of male passengers and a female operator looks at the female screen. Screening is performed away from people who are walking through so the operator can’t match a face to the body scan. A scan takes about six seconds, and the image is erased immediately after.
In order to broaden the market for the Secure 1000 by dealing with the privacy issues, Ferson Technologies is now developing software that will disguise the private areas of a person without compromising the scan for weapons. That added to the fact that the same sex person is scanning is away from the area, and will never see faces of those scanned, should overcome privacy concerns.
“As long as the country commits to protecting its citizens form terrorist acts, I think these things will be selling,” Peters said. “This is a step in right direction to curtail terrorism.”
Another advantage of the system is it avoids issues with racial profiling. Peters is of Mediterranean descent and has dark skin. He is often stopped at airports for a search. When that happens, he sometimes talks to security guards about the Secure 1000.
“Most security guards don’t know what I’m talking about, but sometimes their supervisors will say they would love to buy one if they could get it through the TSA (Transportation Safety Administration),” Peters said. “One of the major airports that uses this is Heathrow. Ninety-five percent of passengers at Heathrow surveyed said they would rather go through the scan than be patted down. You don’t have to be touched by anyone.”
Ferson Technologies, which is division of OSI Systems Inc. of Hawthorne, Calif., also has another product called GaRDS. This scanning system, mounted onto a truck, releases an arm that travels over a tractor trailer scanning cargo inside.
It is the same type of system used with the Secure 1000, but uses a larger dose of radiation.
“If you know your manifest is for 500 bicycles, and you see something other than 500 bikes, you alert the officials for an onboard inspection,” Peters said. “This can be used to detect illegal immigration and smuggling. These are used mostly by U.S. Customs and the Border Patrol. One thing everyone is concerned about is trying to secure our ports.Most freight coming in from international countries is not being inspected at all. This would be a step towards doing some type of inspection of all that cargo and freight.”
Ferson Technologies, formerly known as Ferson Optics, has been a fixture in Ocean Springs since 1942. The company that manufactures optical components and systems was originally on Government Street in Ocean Springs before moving out into more spacious quarters at buildings totaling 20,000 square feet at the Sunplex Industrial Park on Mississippi 57.
The company has two buildings at Sunplex. One is dedicated to optical systems, and the other to production of the GaRDS and the Secure 1000. Production of the two scanning devices started in January.
“We had a lot of support from the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation to find this location and find Mississippi vendors,” Peters said. “We are committed to using as many Mississippi suppliers and vendors as possible.”
The company’s corporate office developed the technology, and was manufacturing the devices in California.
“We convinced them costs are less expensive in Mississippi, and that they should be making those systems here,” Peters said. “At first they were a little concerned we didn’t have the personnel with the technological expertise to do that.”
Ferson Technologies found some people in the area with a technical background, and sent them to California for training. They also brought in some employees from California temporarily to help with training.
“Within a few months, we were building systems,” said Peters, whose company employs 26 people. “The first few were manufactured on a trial basis, and performed successfully. At that point, the company decided to make all of them here.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.