A mobile surveillance camera unit is set up at a Purple Line construction site on Brookville Road in Silver Spring, Md. The unit has red and blue flashing lights reminiscent of a police car. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
Columnist

It is said that humans are genetically wired to fear snakes. You don’t have to teach a baby to be wary of a python or a cobra. That phobia is innate, baked in, something we’re born with.

I think you can say the same about red-and-blue flashing lights. See them behind your vehicle and your first reaction is to hit the brakes. Is it an emergency vehicle you need to let pass — or a police officer who saw you run the stop sign? Your adrenaline surges before you even know why.

Which is why the contraptions I’ve noticed at construction sites along the Purple Line are so diabolically clever. Flatbed trailers sprout metal poles that bristle with security cameras. And on the pole is a pair of blue and red lights that flash continuously.

Catch them out of the corner of your eye, as I did, and your first thought is: What are the cops doing here?!

But there are no cops, just these . . . well, what do you call them?

“We call them solar mobile surveillance camera systems,” said Chris Rhoades, director of accounts at Maryland Security Professionals, the Annapolis-based company that has deployed 17 of the units along the 16-mile Purple Line light-rail line.

“We build them all in-house,” Chris said. “We have a welder on staff. A couple of retired police officers work with us not only to build and install these units but to do maintenance on them as well.”

Chris said the company has been using them for about 10 years, first powering them with generators — “Very expensive to run,” he said — and more recently with solar panels that charge the batteries. Up to four cameras can be mounted on each unit, including a license-plate recognition camera.

Maryland Security Professionals was founded in 2005 by Jeff and Rebecca Croissette. Rebecca is an attorney. Jeff is a retired Prince George’s County police sergeant. The company started out providing unarmed guards to clients. Now these units make up the bulk of their business, arrayed at construction sites around the Mid-Atlantic.

Chris said that boss Jeff felt red-and-blue lights would serve as a good deterrent.

“If you’re driving down the road and see red and blue from a quarter-mile away, you’re going to slow down, no matter what,” Chris said. “You could probably do it with yellow lights or green lights, but red and blue are going to garner more attention.”

Attention is exactly what they want to garner. Forget hidden cameras. These cameras trumpet their presence to the world.

“Our thought is that having hidden security cameras isn’t a creative deterrent,” Chris said. “In the security field, we’d rather something not happen than go back and catch someone after the fact. Those red-and-blue flashing lights are the deterrent value, showing those people in the criminal element that they are being watched 24/7.”

A lot of expensive equipment is kept on job sites. I always chuckle when I see one of those big Knaack boxes that are filled with tools at quitting time then chained to a crane and lifted high into the air. Try stealing this, miscreants.

And now there’s the solar mobile surveillance camera system, the flashing, unblinking eye of a remote RoboCop.

Homeroom

When I last mentioned “It’s Academic” in this space, it was about how the long-running local high school quiz show was in need of a new home. The NBC4 studio in Northwest D.C. is scheduled to be renovated.

Readers inundated the makers of the show with suggestions — and affection, said executive producer Susan Altman, daughter of Sophie Altman, who created the show in 1961.

Susan was surprised and delighted by the outpouring. “It is kind of a shocking thing,” she said. “You work on something and you don’t realize the impact it’s having on a lot of people.”

Capital One offered the use of its production facilities in McLean, Va. — “A very generous offer on their part,” Susan said — but there were logistical challenges that couldn’t be overcome.

But there is a new home: Starting in September, “It’s Academic” will tape at the World MediaNet Studios in National Harbor.

Susan promises a new look and a new set but the same old high-spirited competition.

Reunited and it feels so good

These area schools have reunions coming up:

Coolidge High Class of 1959 — July 20. Email Bill at vederman@att.net.

Eastern High (D.C.) Class of 1964 — Oct. 12. Email Jerri at jmin94@aol.com.

Oakton High Class of 1979 — Email reunion79ohs@gmail.com.

Theodore Roosevelt High Classes of 1957 to 1962 — Oct. 12. Email Phillip Morris at pmorris43@aol.com.

T.C. Williams Class of 1969 — June 1. Email tcwreunion69@gmail.com.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/john-kelly.