By Kevin Galvin

WASHINGTON - Mixing patriotism with the American spirit of enterprise, small businesses are lining up to support the homeland defense -- or at least make a buck trying.

With the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks nearing, 50 entrepreneurs, including one from Seattle, crammed into a small room on Capitol Hill yesterday to hawk wireless gizmos and infrared gadgets to federal agencies seeking new approaches to the war on terrorism.

And lest anyone think it was business as usual, the Homeland Security Expo 2002 opened with a military color guard navigating a narrow aisle through facial recognition systems and biohazard suits to reach the podium, where a Marine sergeant led exhibitors in the Pledge of Allegiance.

With that, it seemed, it was time for the next phase of the American response to terrorist threats -- time to get down to business. Barry Mersky of ES Comms in Bethesda, Md., came to show off his "tooth phone," a tiny wireless radio that fits in the mouth, allowing masked rescue workers to continue communicating, or potentially enabling Secret Service agents to stop talking into their sleeves.

"We're not here just to be cool," Mersky said. "This has real applications."

The tooth phone was an example of how every new crisis has a way of bringing forth people who think they have a solution. And if they can profit from that solution, well, so much the better, as far as everyone at the exposition was concerned.

"The spirit of free enterprise is just as much a part of America's greatness as our political freedoms," Homeland Defense Director Tom Ridge told those gathered at the event, sponsored by the Senate small business committee and the Public Forum Institute, a nonprofit group that advocates for small-business issues. "If necessity is the mother of invention, then there is certainly no more urgent need," he said.

Judging by the display tables at the expo, there is no shortage of inventions emerging from the laboratories of the small-business sector.

Clarion of Indianapolis has developed a system to alert authorities when chemical or biological contaminants are introduced into water supplies. New York's Urban Data Solutions builds spatially accurate computer maps that help cities study and plan emergency responses.

John Lafeber of the Minneapolis-based Infrared Solutions showed off the high-powered handheld infrared camera his company produces for less than $10,000, making it possible for local police departments to acquire them.

Previously, the devices were being marketed to hospitals to enable them to detect faulty wiring.

"It's very unfortunate that 9-11 had to happen," Lafeber said. "But this is a new business opportunity."

Bob Shulman of Vigilos, a Seattle-based startup, saw a less-direct link between the new war on terrorism and his company's security-integration software, which brings together information from devices as different as security cameras and hazardous-materials detectors for remote monitoring anywhere around the globe.

"An obvious solution for the corporate market has turned out to be a necessary solution for the government," he said.

Sen. Kit Bond, R-Mo., the ranking Republican on the small-business panel, said all the hardware tickled the James Bond fan in him.

"Q is alive and well in the hearts and minds of working America," he quipped.

The federal government will spend more than $220 billion on procurement of military and security technology over the next year, and 20 percent of those funds will be targeted to small businesses, said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., chairman of the committee.

He didn't hesitate to liken the efforts of the men and women manning the display tables to military pilots extending their service and new recruits at the FBI and the CIA.

"It is clear that in all kinds of ways, Americans are responding to the demands of the new world," Kerry said. "Citizens from all walks of life are stepping up to the plate to try to make a difference."

Hector Barreto, head of the Small Business Administration, and others cast the demand for technological solutions for America's security needs as a chance to kick-start the sluggish economy.

"Sometimes bad things will happen, but some good things can come out of it," he said.