SAIC: Come on in, the water's great

ORLANDO, Fla.?Science Applications International Corp. wants you to know it has built a tent so big that the company hopes to fit 2,500 vendors?including competing systems integrators -- inside.

The tent, actually SAIC's Public Safety Integration Center in McLean, Va., was dubbed "a permanent, use-based trade show" by its manager, Robert Desourdis Jr. Speaking at a homeland security conference sponsored by the American Quality Institute of Pittsburgh, Desourdis described progress the center has made since it opened in January 2003.

To date, 350 federal and state officials have visited to see the various emergency response and homeland security systems demonstrations. Some 250 niche product vendors have explored, and 60 of them sent their products to be installed, Desourdis said. Products aren't limited to IT, he added. One example is an Israeli-built air purifier that can be hand-cranked in a power outage.

The idea of the center grew out of a plea from Steve Cooper, the chief information officer of the Homeland Security Department, Desourdis said. Cooper had told vendors the department wasn't interested in being its own integrator of single function products, but instead wanted to buy finished solutions.

"So we wanted to avoid the Home Depot or Lowes approach to security," Desourdis said, referring to the giant houseware stores where people can buy everything from foundation blocks to faucets.

One example of the center's output is a training exercise game for agencies that respond to detonations of weapons of mass destruction. SAIC developed the game in conjunction with the National Guard, Desourdis said, and now it is available for free to any government agency. Visitors can also touch and feel an emergency operations center simulation, complete with satellite links.

Desourdis said the center has a plain-Jane appearance, to more realistically imitate what could be built under a typical governmental budget constraint.

"It is designed to be middle-of-the-road, not a rich, multimillion dollar facility," he said.

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