- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 27, 2001

NEW YORK (AP) Despite millions spent on sophisticated explosive detection machines, nothing can beat a man's best friend when it comes to tracking down bombs in buildings and airplanes, security analysts say.
Aviation officials gathering at a security technology conference this week in Atlantic City, N.J., will compare the merits of high-tech ion-mobility spectrometers already in use as bomb and drug detectors with the advantages of sniffer hounds.
Even parties with vested interests in the technology say the dogs are better under many circumstances.
"A dog's nose is probably the most sensitive piece of equipment going. They're enormously accurate," said Brook Miller, vice president of Barringer Technologies, one of the companies that will exhibit spectrometry scanners at the Aviation Security Technology Symposium.
The conference, which is being sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration, will focus on a variety of security technology, from X-ray imagers to cameras that broadcast real-time surveillance video from inside airliners to the ground.
Much of the agenda delves into the relative merits of spectrometry scanners, which detect even microscopic residue of explosives or drugs left on baggage or passengers' clothing, documents or skin. The machines along with X-ray and magnetic-imaging equipment are likely to play an important role for airports that need to comply with new aviation-security legislation.
During the detection process, particles are swabbed from suspicious areas or sucked directly into the machines. The particles are vaporized and the resulting ions are examined to determine whether they resemble chemicals used in bombs or narcotics.
Paul Eisenbraun, vice president of Ion Track Instruments, said his company is under contract with the FAA to produce its Itemizer scanners, already used in 76 airports.
Now the agency is pushing for more of the detectors, Mr. Eisenbraun said.
Ion Track's hand-held scanner, called the VaporTracer2, is in the process of gaining FAA certification, Mr. Eisenbraun said. The company also carries a walk-through version called EntryScan.
Devices like these and Barringer's Ionscan can identify particles as small as one-billionth or one-trillionth of a gram, putting them in the same league as a good bomb dog.
Companies at the forefront of trace-detection technology find themselves in competition with Labrador retrievers, German shepherds and Belgian Malinois.
Even though new aviation legislation requires bomb-detecting machines to be installed at all large U.S. airports by the end of 2002, the FAA has no plans to retire its dogs. This year, the FAA had 188 canine teams working full-time at 39 major airports across the country, said FAA spokesman Paul Takemoto. The agency plans to add teams to 25 more airports in 2002 and 16 more in 2003, Mr. Takemoto said.
Proponents of the scanners say dogs have several drawbacks.
Dogs can only work a few hours before getting tired. They need to be cared for and cleaned up.
And, although a trained dog comes cheaper $10,000 compared with a $20,000 to $40,000 detector it doesn't take a skilled handler to operate the devices.
"Any yahoo can use them," Mr. Miller said.
Also, dogs are usually trained to find either explosives or drugs, but not both. The scanners can check for traces of narcotics or explosives as many as 30-plus compounds.
"A dog trained on American-made C-4 may not alert [anyone] to Chinese-made C-4 because it's a different kind of material," Mr. Eisenbraun said.
Mr. Eisenbraun said these factors make his company's devices more efficient for screening.
When it comes to finding a bomb hidden in a stadium or airport, however, all agree it's time to send in the dogs.
"A dog can go into an area and lead you to where the odor is coming from. That's the main advantage," said Mike Herstik, who trains canines for military and law-enforcement clients.
Two canine teams could search a 20,000-seat arena in an hour and a half, while it might take a full day for 30 persons with trace detectors to examine the same area.
As a result, dogs have worked their paws raw in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Mr. Herstik has no fear that dogs will be replaced by machines anytime soon. He welcomes help from the machines.
"Everything at our disposal should be used," Mr. Herstik said. "But I still think there's nothing better than a dog."


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