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A Proactive Advance In Explosives Detection Canines by Erin Donohue “It’s the unknown and these dogs are your first line of defense.” That’s a quote from a video produced by Amtrak’s Police Department about canine teams and their part in making the


safe. In answer to the unknown, the rash of threats, and attempted and successful bombings

suicide world-

wide, Amtrak is one of the few agencies with a new canine on patrol leveling the playing field against today’s terrorists. Photo courtesy of David Smith of Amtrak.

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Vapor Wake Detection Canines, trained to sniff the air, are being produced as part of the Canine

follow the vapor wake to the explo-

by the proactive use of both vapor

sive source.”

and traditional explosives detection

“These are the Michael Jordans

canine (EDC) teams. He maintains,

Detection Research Institute’s

of canines,” says Inspector William

“officers are visible on the trains, in

(CDRI) program at Auburn Univer-

Parker, Commander of the Amtrak

the stations and in locations where

sity in Alabama. According to the

Police Canine Program. “Advertise-

university’s web site, “the Vapor

ments used to say, ‘Be like Mike.’

Wake Detection (VWD) Canine

Well, everyone with dogs wants to

Team is a standard explosives detec-

be like Amtrak.” Amtrak currently is

tion canine team with additional

home to 14 of these teams that ride

abilities and training to detect

the rails from coast to coast aiming

carried or body-worn explosives. The

to deter an attack on the nation’s

VWD canine samples the plume of

train system.

air coming off a person and/or what

Has Amtrak been successful

suspects may assume there is little patrol.” Inspector Parker has been working with canines for over 33 years and has been integral in bringing awareness to the Vapor Wake Detection program out of Auburn University to agencies, such

they are carrying as the person

in deterring an attack? Without

as Washington, DC Capital Police

passes through a choke point or

a documented attack or plan on

and the New York Police Depart-

within a crowd. The canine can also

record, Parker surmised, the only

ment. They are both reportedly using

detect an explosive’s wake after a

assumption to be made is that they

these dogs out of the CDRI in their

person has transited an area and

have been successful in deterrence

arsenal to fight terrorism.

Photo courtesy of David Smith of Amtrak.

   t K- 9 C O P M A G A Z I N E

“TSA has taken notice,” says Parker. After having done several demonstrations for the Transportation Security Administration and other organizations, they have gathered the support needed, he indicated, to add this protocol to their much maligned screening process in the airports. Support is what is most important when embarking on training such as this. It’s more than just being able to spend the money to invest in the education. Costs are in the tens of thousands of dollars, but you also must find the right candidate for the program, have the ability to care for and house the dog, as well as provide the tools and environment for daily training. It is a multilevel undertaking with the agency having the ability to house licensed explosives, provide veterinary care and a facility to train. Aftercare also includes keeping in touch with Auburn University after graduation . “After the team has been in place for at least 30 days, we will visit the team and work with them for two weeks of training to ensure the proficiency we observed in the training environment has successfully Photo courtesy of David Smith of Amtrak.

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transferred into the operational environment. After that, we provide free telephone/media consultation or free assistance at our location. Additionally, we must re-certify the team annually,” said John Pearce, Associate Director of Auburn’s Canine Detection Research Institute, in an interview for this article. Auburn University recently won top honors in college football and that team will find themselves in the cross-hairs of their competition next year. The same can be said for the school’s Vapor Wake Detection Program, which is undergoing a process to patent and copyright their technology. “This is primarily to protect the technology,” said Pearce. “This will prevent someone from calling their product vapor wake. There is a lot of hard work that went into the development of this technology. And it is very manpower intensive and hard work. Because of this, we want to protect the technology from misrepresentation and receiving a bad reputation from someone not properly representing the technology.” “Our goal is not to be the biggest [dog training program]. Our goal is Photo courtesy of David Smith of Amtrak.    t K- 9 C O P M A G A Z I N E

to be the best at training detector

work, it says online, and enters the

breeds are primarily used for this

dogs for basic and special applica-

Detector Dog Raising Program upon

program because of their friendly

tions and educating handlers and

birth. At about 13 weeks of age, the

nature and close association with

managers, which is most often

puppies begin work in a facility with

the public.

overlooked but has a huge impact on

prisoners. The dogs’ ability to stay

the canine’s long-term performance,”

24 hours a day, seven days a week

they return to the CDRI for the next

said Pearce.

with one particular prisoner-handler

phase of training. “The dogs are less

has lead to future success in more

than two years old when they enter

are trained as traditional explosive

intense training situations. Over the

our program,” said Pearce. While the

detection dogs before the vapor

next few months, the puppy’s natural

dogs in the program will be placed

wake training begins but the entire

instincts are honed and they are

in a new home with the right partner

process begins even before the

exposed to various environmental

and family, it’s the handler who has

dog is born. A Vapor Wake Detec-

settings in the prison facility until

to leave home for approximately

tion canine is bred for this line of

they are about a year old. Sporting

three months to take this training.

Canines in the program at Auburn

Once the puppy becomes an adult,

Photo courtesy of Erin Donohue. M A R C H / A P R I L 2 011  t   

contracts and clients,” said Pearce. “It takes a lot of time to train these teams and then give them time and training in their environment to make them an expert at detection of explosives there. You are talking about a year’s worth of time to make this canine team extremely highly proficient at detection of explosives that are either body worn or carried. A lot of agencies aren’t doing anything on how to tactically handle a suicide bomber. I feel that is a huge mistake.” “Let’s further develop this [vapor wake] technology and be ready to employ it when it’s requested. UnforPhoto courtesy of Erin Donohue.

tunately, it will take an event to change our culture before standard

“Standard course students are away

are meeting the high standards the

from home for 10 weeks and those

CDRI has established. Not every

headed to vapor wake are away for

handler or canine makes it through

[at least] 12 weeks. We will guide

the standard program and on to

the client in selecting a person to

the vapor wake training. However,

attend if asked, but it is primarily the

because of the training the canines

client’s [agency’s] responsibility to

have received since early on in their

answer is primarily driven by

ensure they provide us with a quality

life, most generally complete both

contracts. “If we get more of a

person that we can shape into a

courses, becoming dually certified.

demand, then we will expand the

quality handler,” added Pearce.

If a canine cannot complete the

program to meet the demand or

vapor wake portion, “they are used

contract requirements.” Pearce

proficiency checks and performance

to fulfill standard explosive detec-

goes on to explain the low ratio of

evaluations to ensure the students

tion canine team needs with various

students with canines to instructors

The course includes written tests,

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operating procedures are developed to tactically handle this type of event. By this time, it is too late to start developing detection methods.” When it comes to how many teams they produce a year, the

is usually four to one. When the team graduates the program, the canines must begin training in their environment. Amtrak’s Inspector Parker describes bringing the team into the “natural habitat” they will be in day to day and people are a part of that. So, on a daily basis, they use people and equipment as decoys that mimic the actions of a real suicide bomber or terrorist action. About two and a half months post-graduation from the CDRI, the average Amtrak Vapor Wake Detection team is in full deployment mode at various locations across the country and maintaining a high level of training on a daily basis. In the private and public sector, the machine has replaced the dog in efforts of explosives detection. But there are facts to be considered when comparing the two technologies. When considering a canine versus a machine, keep in mind that a dog can get into places that a machine cannot, as well as never having a need for electricity. According to John Pearce, “There really isn’t anything better in the detection of explosives and providing a deterrent than a canine. The Photo courtesy of David Smith of Amtrak.

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canine can sample the air four times per second without being recalibrated, where a machine must recalibrate after every sample taken. The canine is also highly mobile.” “Additionally, if [a terrorist wants] to defeat a machine, it is much easier. Once [they] figure it out, [they] can defeat each and every model of that machine in the same manner. Although canines have to meet a standard, not every canine is alike. Therefore, what one canine might find difficult, another canine might find easy.” Also, “it is very easy to train the canine on a new scent. It will take the canine less than a day to start learning the new scent,” adds Pearce. T&M Protection Resources of New York City and their canine partners, Camp Frontline LTD, have introduced the Vapor Wake Detection Canine to private sector clients. They are the first and only private company to have attended and completed the rigorous Auburn University CDRI program. Their first team, Raven and handler Brian Murphy, even garnered top honors at the August, 2010 graduation. They have since added a few more teams    t K- 9 C O P M A G A Z I N E

Photo courtesy of David Smith of Amtrak.

to their force that include traditional explosive detection canines as well.

and God-willing the safe fight.” For more on Vapor Wake Detec-

vapor-wake-detection. To see an online demonstration of T&M Protection

Under the guidance of Michael and

tion and Auburn University’s CDRI,

Resources go to

Paul Stapleton, pioneers in the field

check out

watch?v=kt9sUgAy8Ek. N

of private sector bomb dogs, T&M and Camp Frontline feel that the Vapor Wake Detection Canine is a perfect fit in a variety of applications. “These dogs are unobtrusive and

Erin Donohue is a writer and designer from Long Island, New York. A dog lover and proud owner of a King Charles Cavalier Spaniel and a mixed Cocker Spaniel-Cavalier, she is amazed by the capabilities of all dogs. Having the opportunity to see the vapor wake detection teams in action, she thought an article would be a perfect fit for this magazine. While conducting interviews for the piece, she found her subjects to be incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about their canines and their endless potential.

a great addition to event security. What high profile stadium or location wouldn’t want to add this technology to their protocol?” asks Paul Stapleton, Canine Director. “There are sporting events, entertainment programs, sensitive landmarks and more that command large crowds. With Vapor Wake Detection Canines, guests don’t realize they have been screened.” When asked, Michael Stapleton referred to the work being done by the Vapor Wake Detection teams, John Pearce and the CDRI as ‘patriotic.’ “There are many lives relying on a vapor wake team armed with a wonderful training and patriotic vision. Each team has an extraordinary talent and capability. They have performed extremely difficult work in training and have put in the time and effort into fighting the good Photo courtesy of Erin Donohue.

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Vapor Wake Canines  

Article I wrote published in K9 Cop Magazine February-March 2011 on Vapor Wake Detection Canines. Interviewed John Pearce of Auburn Universi...