Anytime there's a catastrophic event somewhere in the world, Joel Johnson scans the television coverage for something specific.
In many cases it's "bittersweet," but Johnson says there's a sense of pride in seeing the tools he helped to develop in Lincoln making a difference in life-or-death situations worldwide.
“You’re sad to see those events happen, but yet, it’s also nice to see the search-and-rescue guys pulling somebody out of a rubble pile holding one of our pieces of equipment,” Johnson said.
Savox Communications certainly isn’t a household name, nor is it a Lincoln manufacturer that many in the community are aware of, its employees say.
Savox’s product line includes professional-grade tools to aid search-and-rescue operations and support communications between rescuers but also with victims. These include life-detector systems, cameras that can be inserted into small locations, and radio communications.
The tools have been used in response to major disasters, including the pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University last year and the Chilean mining accident that captured the world's attention in 2010. They’re used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Department of State and NASA. About 40 to 50 percent of the company’s sales are international, said Johnson, director of engineering and product management.
The Lincoln location near Folsom and West South streets was established in 2005 by Con-Space Communications, a company based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, and ran by former employees of Telex Communications in northeast Lincoln. Con-Space also owned Search Systems, a similar company based in Bakersfield, California.
Con-Space was acquired about a decade ago by Finland-based Savox, a company known for two-way communication accessories. The company eventually moved Search Systems’ resources to Lincoln, which operates today as the primary office for Savox in North America.
The company’s search-and-rescue cameras allow for easy inspection of disaster areas. The cameras, which have LED lights attached, can be inserted into a drilled hole to search a scene.
The Delsar life detector system from Savox involves up to six small sensors seeking to pick up vibrations and can multiply sound 10,000 times.
“You have these sensors that you can place around the pile, and you can detect if there's someone tapping or making noise or scratching,” Johnson said. “You can basically listen for survivors that are trying to signal through the rubble piles.”
The company’s hardline communications for rescuers have been designed for use in tight areas like trenches or tunnels.
“And because it’s wired, it works every time, whereas in certain environments, even with all the advancements in radio technology, sometimes it just doesn’t work,” Johnson said.
Search-and-rescue isn’t the only field that Savox serves. It also assists in covert communications required by the Secret Service, for example, or by law enforcement teams when scanning large crowds for perpetrators.
“These devices are so discreet and so covert that I could be standing right next to you, and it would look like I was just walking around with a set of car keys,” said John Stinglen, North America service manager for Savox. “But in fact, I could be standing right next to you, and if it’s noisy enough, I could say, ‘OK, I’m next to them right now. When I give the signal, let’s apprehend them.’”
Stinglen, who has worked with the company for nine years, coordinates repairs and product upgrades for Savox. He said the Lincoln facility is the only one that can repair the products due to the certifications that are required, including making sure they are safe.
“That means that our products are designed and tested and certified, that during use, they will not cause a spark that will create an explosion that will cause injury or death,” Stinglen said. “We are very restricted on what we can do because of that rating.”
Johnson, a University of Nebraska product who started with the company in November 2011, constantly monitors new and emerging technologies the company can use, including those developed by competitors. Some of these include equipment for thermal imaging and wireless communications, which would allow different sensors to compile and accumulate data, he said.
Another advancement Savox is exploring is a 360-degree camera, although the technology isn’t where they want it to be just yet, Stinglen said. The company is also planning to integrate some of its existing products.
“Instead of having to buy two or three systems, we’re thinking of combining them into a bigger overall system that would provide the needs for the end users without them having to carry so much around,” he said.
As for Savox’s public image, Stinglen said it’s not that the company tries to be secretive. It’s just not something that the everyday consumer would need.
But the niche filled by Savox worldwide can’t be taken lightly.
“It’s very serious stuff, so I take my job really seriously,” Stinglen said. “But I also take pride in the products that we make, because they are designed and developed to save lives.”