The Counter Terror Expo is the UK’s largest buyers’ fair for products designed to keep people safe from terrorist threats.
More than 9,500 buyers, exhibitors and counter-terrorism experts are in London for the two-day event that began on Tuesday at the Olympia Exhibition Centre.
Since 9/11 this has grown into an industry worth £3.5 billion-a-year according to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. This expo has doubled its attendees since 2009, with interest building up before the 2012 Olympics in London.
And there are no shortage of people selling things to help combat against attacks against companies, governments or individuals.
1. Robots play an increasingly huge role in fighting terrorism – they’ve been a feature in Afghanistan and Iraq for years.
Above is the Packbot 510 made by iRobot, with business development manager Mike Edis.
Boston-based iRobot has sold 10 million of its roombas, the robotic vacuum cleaning discs, but it’s also a big deal in military technology. The Packbot is a bomb disposal robot designed to be carried on a solider’s back - hence the name - which also can monitor radiation and chemical warfare threats. The company claims there are 6,000 of them in service, with NATO a key client. Edis claims his robots “save lives” and he has the emails from soldiers to prove it.
Edis has no doubts that the growth of the counter terrorism industry is proportionate the threats we face.
“None of us knows, we have an idea but but we don’t know, what the next guy [terrorist] will be. The last problem in the UK was a stabbing, other than Northern Ireland which is still continuing. Unfortunately we cannot step back,” he says.
“You’ll see a lot of static protection devices here. We’re starting to see bins come back to the streets of the UK - slowly. Some of those are protected.
“What’s around the corner? Who knows… Everyone is still preparing. Is it worth it, is it of value? If we sit back we just let the people walk in and we’ve let that happen again and again. It will happen again but we’ve got to be as well prepared as we can.”
2. If all else fails, you can always strap a camera to a dog.
The camera, made by Visual Engineering, is infra-red and and can see through walls, with a range of around 300 metres.
Soldiers use it clearing buildings - it gets strappd to attack dogs significantly less fluffy than this toy one, who are trained to attack people unless they’re remotely called off. It’s also useful for bomb disposal and search and rescue teams.
3. If you haven’t got a dog you could throw this cameraball through the window of a building you’d like to storm.
It’s only a prototype but its camera can pan around a room silently.
4. This is a dummy used by police and the military for target practice. It is quite menacing.
No one from McQueen Targets, which makes all manner of things for people to shoot at, could explain why he looks a bit like Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
5. McQueen also makes these target practice aids, which you can turn around after you’ve emptied your clip and see which vital organs you would have hit.
As the sales rep, Michael Lackie, tells me: “There are a lot of places you can hit someone and not bring them down.”
6. Their brochure lists 13 different kind of targets with 33 variations – including “Omar”, a brown-skinned suicide bomber.
7. The “Darrell” target comes either holding a gun … or a can of Fosters.
8. Large parts of the Counter Terror Expo look like behind-the-scenes outtakes from an early Peter Jackson film.
Simulaids makes life-like dummies for medical professionals to practice with when acting out emergencies. They are anatomically correct, but with a haunting facial expression.
This thing will set you back £22,950, not including VAT, in case you were thinking of getting one.
You may not want to see this while eating your lunch.
The idea is to get paramedics to see images of mutilated bodies in dummy form, before they have to encounter one in real life. The dummies can also help trainers stage scenarios that only happy very rarely in the field.
9. They do prosthetic dogs too, for some reason. Thankfully, they aren’t mutilated.
10. Technology to seal wounds and stop bleeding is advancing fast. Again, maybe don’t watch this if you’re squeamish.
This thing, the iTClamp is already being used in the trauma department at St George’s Hospital and its makers say it’s much more effective than a tourniquet at stopping bleeding.
11. We learned you can counter chemical warfare in style, with these fetching biohazard suits.
12. This is Quincy, a six-year-old border collie and a counter-terrorism professional.
It’s not just high-tech gizmos that save us from terrorist threats – one of the key ways of intercepting bombs and dangerous packages is sniffer dogs. Quincy works for RFA Security Services, which checks every piece of mail that goes to the Houses of Parliament.
13. Sid, aged four, is another RFA dog. They also get booked by investment banks and big event organisers to check for bombs and suspiscious items.
There are 17 search dogs and it takes 700 hours of training to turn a puppy into a fully-fledged pro. Company director Tony Sharpstone says there are no legal upper limits on how many hours a dog can work but the company has to be careful as they “lose interest” the more tired they get.
“Their only aim in life is to earn a tennis ball. The trainers put something for them to find as an exercise and they get the ball as a reward so that’s their aim in life,” he says. “You’ve got the technology and robots but the dogs are invaluable.”
The dogs’ trainer, George, says the dogs reach their peak at about four years old and can understand up to 20 commands.
This is Yvonne Greda, sales coordinator for EPC-UK, which makes non-lethal grenades, bombs, tear gas and all kinds of things that explode.
As BuzzFeed is browsing she recommends the fancy Blackjack grenades, which are advertised as “specifically designed to meet the needs of those involved in Explosive Methods of Entry”.
But are these things all necessary? According to people you speak to here, companies and public sector agencies have a responsibility to keep people safe.
“People who are making the big capital investment in this are really doing it because they have to be reponsible,” says Ronald Kessel, a maritime defence expert and former NATO security advisor.
“The number one responsiblity is regulations, that’s the biggest drivers. And then there are the people who face genuine risks and have to invest further. But they have to be seen to be putting in the levels of security to meet the threat.
“It’s this that drives the procurement – and rightly so.”
He adds that if an event happens and people say to a state or a company, “You knew this could happen and you didn’t prepare for it,” that’s where people become liable and can get blamed.
“I feel confident about what is being put in place, in weighing the levels of disruption to business, to public life, against the costs and risks.”
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