First he started his own company, and now this political big shot is lending his name to a local tech company. Michael K. Powell, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has agreed to join the board of directors of Reston-based ObjectVideo Inc.
After a couple of years of slow sales that disappointed investors, the video surveillance software company has begun picking up significant traction, winning contracts in recent months to provide software in places such as the Port of Mobile, Ala., and Memphis International Airport. The Marines are also using the firm's software in Fallujah, and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority used it last month to demonstrate a $212 million security system that will be created by Lockheed Martin Corp. (No official deal with the MTA has been announced yet.)
Raul J. Fernandez, ObjectVideo's chief executive, said he is hoping Powell can help the firm break into new markets, such as home entertainment and retail, where the software could be used to detect employee fraud or theft.
Powell, who runs the MK Powell Group, a District-based consulting firm, said this is the first corporate board he has joined since leaving the FCC.
"I am a convert to how transformative some of the uses of technology are," Powell said.
First, First Responders
The day Hurricane Katrina struck, 9.9 million people logged on to WeatherBug, the Web-based weather information service run by AWS Convergence Technologies Inc. of Germantown. That's a 70 percent jump from the usual number.
AWS has a network of 8,000 weather tracking stations that report very localized weather information. Only half of the 300 weather stations positioned throughout the Gulf Coast are online as a result of the storm, and the condition of the others is largely unknown. But before repairs can begin, the company is putting up 30 new stations -- for first responders and shelters.
The operation, undertaken with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will allow collection of data like temperature, humidity and wind speed, providing police and fire officials with weather information. The data that could be important if a fire breaks out, another storm approaches or airborne toxins are released, said John Doherty, vice president of professional services at AWS.
Then the firm will begin its own reconstruction.
Relief and Refreshment
Pamela J. Braden, chief executive of Riverdale-based Gryphon Technologies LC, lost touch with 21 employees stationed in Pascagoula, Miss., and New Orleans for several days after Katrina struck.
Eventually she heard from a couple of workers, who said the company's offices were in ruins, along with the employees' homes.
"These guys were in bad shape -- they were standing in line for bread and water," said Braden, whose 300-person firm does system integration work on large Navy ships. Unlike bigger companies, Gryphon didn't have the ability to set up a tent city or corporate soup kitchen for its displaced workers.
But Braden could get on a flight to Pensacola, Fla., where she and three other Gryphon executives spent half a day rounding up bottled water, extra-long extension cords, 10 generators and "lots and lots of baby wipes."
The most well-received item? A few six packs of cold beer -- "cold" being the key word.
"We still have a great deal of fog of war out there," Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, told a crowd of 60 engineers gathered in the District on Tuesday. "We're just beginning to understand what the requirements are."
The meeting, organized by the American Society of Civil Engineers, attracted representatives from organizations such as the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, the American Institute of Architects and the Infrastructure Security Partnership to talk about the role their members could play in digging out the South -- and how they might be able to get part of the reconstruction work.
Ellen McCarthy writes about the local tech scene every Thursday. Her e-mail is email@example.com.