ANAHEIM — Graffiti vandalism has been a big problem the past two years for Alumax Building Products.
Next to the Riverside Freeway at the State College Boulevard off-ramp, the manufacturing firm's rear wall has been an inviting target for taggers who want their names seen by thousands of motorists a day.
But that may have changed.
Recently installed atop the 15-foot-high wall are six lawn sprinklers attached to two infrared motion detectors, similar to the ones homeowners often use to turn on floodlights in their yards. The next time vandals attempt to write on the building, water will spray down, drenching the taggers and washing away the paint.
"Nobody wants water sprayed all over them," said John Schippers, a Garden Grove electronics designer who built the system with partner Arnie Boyle, a Costa Mesa inventor. "They'll just go somewhere else."
The two have applied for patents on the device and founded Graffiti Defense Systems. To market the product, they have installed prototypes at Alumax and an Anaheim car dealership.
Steven Bringhurst, Alumax's production operations manager, said his firm was spending countless hours painting over graffiti only to have it reappear within days. City ordinances require owners to remove graffiti within five days.
"We're the victims, but unfortunately we're responsible for cleaning it up," Bringhurst said. "We've talked about putting up shrubs, but they take a certain amount of care and water . . . you can't just let them grow wild. But we needed to do something."
Anaheim, which had five identified tagging gangs or crews a year ago has 95 today.
City officials suggested to Boyle that Alumax would be the perfect test site for his device, which was installed by Schippers and Boyle free. The actual price for the anti-graffiti tool will vary depending on the size of the wall protected and whether secondary alarms such as bells and lights are added.
During a demonstration Tuesday, Boyle walked back-and-forth near the wall. Every time he approached the building, the six sprinklers each sprayed six gallons of water a minute, wetting the wall and everything within four feet.
"I think a product such as this will go a long way toward solving our problem," said Bringhurst, who decided to skip the lights and alarms. "I could just see some driver being distracted and driving off the freeway and (suing) us."
Boyle, who has invented devices for cleaning swimming pools and for customizing vans and Volkswagen Beetles, said his 19-year-old son, Michael, had the idea for the anti-graffiti system about three months ago.
News reports had been pointing out the explosion in graffiti throughout Southern California--and inspiration struck. The elder Boyle worked out a prototype and asked Schippers to fine-tune the electronics.
He and Schippers are now working on a variation that will protect walls next to sidewalks. It will wet the walls but not the ground in front of it, thus avoiding the problem of dousing an innocent pedestrian who gets too close. They also think their device has possibilities as a home burglary deterrent.
"If lights and alarms are going off and you're soaked with water, you're probably not going to go ahead and rob the house," Schippers said.