Is a Spy Tower Coming to a Parking Lot Near You?
Woodbridge is one of the towns in Middlesex County who signed on for the use of SkyWatch, a manned two-story mobile surveillance unit that's keeping its eye on you.
SkyWatch. It sounds like something out of a Terminator movie.
The manufacturer of SkyWatch - manned mobile surveillance towers with cabs that can rise up to two stories in height - says they're the latest in safety gear for municipalities in a post-9/11 world.
SkyWatch is a piece of machinery the nay-sayers could live without.
Last week Woodbridge was one of multiple towns inside Middlesex County who signed on for permission to borrow a SkyWatch surveillance tower recently purchased through the Prosecutor's Office with a Homeland Security grant.
Plainboro, Spotswood, Cranbury, Middlesex Boro and Woodbridge are just some of the municipalities who signed up for or are considering their turn at SkyWatch should the need arise.
What is the need, though?
"It's an elevated platform on a scissors jack. It's used for parades, to monitor the crowd, for crowd control and surveillance," said Jim O'Neill, spokesman for the Prosecutor's Office.
"For some situations, it gives more than a street level view."
The $134,000 mobile security tower comes equipped with loudspeakers, high intensity lighting for night work, security cameras, and blackout windows - where the officers inside the air-conditioned and heated space can see you, but you can't see them.
"Vantage point is everything when it comes to surveillance," said FLIR, the manufacturer of SkyWatch, in its literature.
The surveillance towers are adaptable for more than one officer. There is a range of add-ons that can increase its usefulness, depending upon the goal. Exterior cameras and DVRs can record, there are computer jacks inside the cab for laptops, and - for the truly paranoid - a camera for underneath the cab, in case authorities fear someone might try to climb up the hydraulic scissor jack.
Among the uses FLIR touts for SkyWatch are border patrol, disaster response, crowd management, emergency responses, and the protection of VIPs and dignitaries. In some southern towns, it's used for more prosaic purposes, like monitoring auto theft in parking lots.
The Middlesex County SkyWatch unit, though, hasn't been used. O'Neill said he wasn't even sure if the county has received it yet.
The towns that signed the agreement will be able to use the unit if they want it, O'Neill said: "They're responsible for it while they have it."