Auburn University graduates first TSA class from
Vapor Wake Detection training program

By Carol Nelson and Mike Clardy, Office of Communications and Marketing


Ten new handlers and their canine partners graduated from Auburn University's Vapor Wake Detection training program Wednesday, April 6.

The 13-week course brought the first Transportation Security Administration class to the College of Veterinary Medicine's Canine Detection Research Institute in Anniston, Ala. There, the inspectors were paired with dogs bred and trained specifically for the program. The 10 new handlers and their dogs will be deployed as part of a pilot program in Miami International Airport, Chicago O'Hare International Airport and Dulles International Airport.

The Vapor Wake Detection team is a standard explosives detection team with an additional application where the canine can sense carried or body-worn explosives. The Vapor Wake Detection canine samples the plume of air coming off a person and what they are carrying as the person passes through a congested area or within a crowd. The canines can also detect an explosive's vapor wake after a person has carried an explosive through an area, and can follow the vapor wake to the explosive source.

"We've been excited with the training process and watching the dogs learn," said TSA's Sonya Proctor, deputy assistant director in the Office of Law Enforcement Federal Air Marshal Service. "We look forward to bringing them out into the operational environment in the transportation field."

The researchers in the College of Veterinary Medicine say they believe that Vapor Wake Detection technology is the most effective and economical approach available for combating threats to safety and homeland security posed by individuals carrying explosives or munitions. According to John Pearce, associate director of the Canine Detection Research Institute, the canines have been exceptionally successful in this form of detection in areas with a large congestion of pedestrian traffic without impeding traffic flow.

While explosives detection and checkpoint screening equipment is stationary, detection dogs can work all types of venues, and after explosives are identified, can continue to work the checkpoint or track the identified source. This mobility is a major advantage of the canine detection team.

Additionally, the canine detection team offers unpredictability. "Detection and screening equipment can be studied, calibrated and eventually compromised," Pearce said. "Each detection canine is different; terrorists cannot predetermine their ability or responses."

"We have to continue to evolve," said Proctor. "This is taking canine detection to a new level, and we have to continue to look for ways to make sure we can detect threats before they get into the transportation environment. We look at this as a brand new opportunity and will continue to look for additional ways in the future. Hopefully, some of those will be born at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn University."

Last Updated: Apr. 7, 2011

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