'Vapor Wake' Dogs: New Breed of Bomb-Detecting Canines

A new breed of “vapor wake” dogs would be able to – literally – sniff out a suicide bomber moving within a crowd of 50,000 people.

A new breed of “vapor wake” dogs would be able to – literally – sniff out a suicide bomber moving within a crowd of 50,000 people.

These bomb-detecting canines are specially bred and socially raised to be effective at explosive detection, regardless of distracting environments such as crowds at a concert or sporting event. The development of the skilled pups began with years of research, breeding and testing at Auburn University’s Canine Performance Sciences (CPS) program.

They have been introduced to the public by AMK9, the exclusive commercial distribution partner for Auburn’s CPS program, and by the NYPD who often use their special detection skills in subway stations.

Vapor wake canines are able to track "thermal plumes left behind in a person's wake," president of Anniston, Alabama training program VWK9 LLC, Paul Hammond, said.

How it works: when people move, they emit rising warm air that trails behind them. Under the right conditions, the specially trained dogs can sniff this body heat for particles and detect a suicide bomber within a stadium of tens of thousands of people.

"It is not distracted by the 80,000 people. It is not distracted by the thousands of vehicles passing by outside the stadium. It is not distracted by the trash can," Hammond said. "Since the Manchester attack, we're inundated with calls."

After a suicide bomber killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert at an arena in Manchester, England, in May, security advisors in the concert industry have pushed for better technology to keep fans safe.

Prevent Advisors, a group of former major metropolitan police commissioners and military officials, sponsored a demonstration of the dogs and other new security technology last month at the VenuesNow forum in Los Angeles.

"It's on patrons' minds now. We used to keep all this stuff really hush-hush-super-secret. Now we're encouraging our venues to communicate to the public: 'This is a safe space,'" Paul Korzilius, a longtime Bon Jovi manager who is now a senior vice president for Arena Alliance, which works closely with Prevent Advisors, said.

The dogs – who each cost $50,000 per year but can be bought with bulk discounts or leased – haven't caught any bombers yet, but they have been able to identify legal handguns at a Donald Trump rally and also honed in on a man carrying nitroglycerin pills for a heart condition. Those were mistakes, but, to advocates, they illustrate the dogs' tracking precision.

However, not all are convinced of the dogs' abilities. "It's not an exact science," Tom Deluccia, an officer and dog trainer for the LAPD bomb squad, said. "If you're in constant motion with the dog, and you're constantly screening, scanning, searching people, you do have a high likelihood of detecting people — but that would require all the stars aligning."

For this reason, some in the concert business are reluctant to make use of the vapor wake canines. Steve Kirsner, vice president of booking and events for the SAP Center in San Jose, Calf., said the arena has employed standard bomb-sniffing dogs but doesn't plan to expand to vapor wake "until it develops a little further and we can prove that we have a need for it."

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