News & Resources

News

Going to the Dogs: T&M's Canines Sniff Out Explosives

Terrorism is no longer solely a foreign problem. By Joseph Ricci.

May 22, 2005

Boomer, a Belgian Malinois, is a working explosives-detection canine. Sam is a highly experienced and trained canine handler.

Together, Boomer and Sam, members of T&M Protection Resources’ explosives-detection team, are working with arenas, stadiums and other public venues to search for potential explosives.

“With larger public facilities and big crowds, the presence of a dog is not only essential from a safety and security standpoint, but provides a level of comfort for those in attendance,” says T&M Chairman Robert Tucker.

T&M works with many of New York City’s most recognized landmarks, corporations and public venues, including Shea Stadium, to provide explosives-detection services. Robert Kadson, vice president of security for the New York Mets at Shea Stadium, works closely with T&M and the New York Police Department in using canines for pre-game searches. The canine units work in conjunction with the other security measures — including extensive personal screening, searches of handbags, mandatory full patdown searches and a walk through the magnetometer — to provide a safe and secure environment for thousands to enjoy the game.

“We Are New York,” says Kadson. “People here have high expectations, especially when you’ve been through the kind of trauma we have experienced. T&M’s canine units bring a high level of professionalism to security at Shea. It’s a top-level organization and has invested a lot of resources in its canines.”

While Shea Stadium has 24-hour security, canine detection units are essential for a facility with that amount of traffic and activity at all times of day. Kadson employs multiple, proactive security and prevention measures to ensure the safety of fans, players and employees. Personnel at Shea search all bags and coats and use hand-held magnetometers to detect prohibited items. Vehicles also are searched and NYPD officers serve as a visible deterrent.

For the stadium’s ownership, there is a high level of concern for safety and fan comfort.

Kadson relies on relationships with the NYPD’s Intelligence Division, the Secret Service and the FBI for keeping up with security developments and meeting Major League Baseball’s Security Guidelines. “We worked with T&M Protection Resources to develop a plan and procedures for searching the stadium before any major events,” says Kadson.

“The dogs and handlers perform a necessary task, especially based on the fears of a post- 9/11 community. The dogs are unobtrusive and their friendly demeanor has allowed them to bond with the players, executives, stadium personnel and the fans. Machines can’t do that!”

Also on T&M’s client list was this year’s Super Bowl in Houston’s Reliant Stadium.

“Explosives detection is very high on the list of NFL Best Practices,” says Milton Ahlerich, vice president of security for the NFL, with responsibility for coordinating security and safety plans for the Super Bowl. “The job canines perform — working with law enforcement professionals, explosives- detection experts and bomb squads — is quite impressive. We’re very grateful for the services these dogs provide.”

Dogs certainly are not new to the workforce. In addition to explosives detection, dogs have spent hundreds of years serving as trackers, in protection and patrol, drug interdiction, and search and rescue. Reliability and effectiveness have long been the working canine’s calling card. Victor Solis, director of T&M’s Explosives Detection Unit, has spent nearly 20 years handling and training detection dogs in both the public and private sectors, including 15 years with the NYPD where he served as Kennel Master for the Bomb Squad, training explosives-detection canines and their handlers. Solis explains dogs rely on their strong retriever instincts and enormous work ethic. Dogs can detect scents at a rate 100 times greater than humans can and no equipment has proven as reliable or effective in searching large areas, bags or cargo. Such effectiveness includes a properly trained canine’s ability to detect items such as C-4 and Semtex — one of the most powerful plastic explosives in the world with a nearly non-existent scent.

Explosives-detection dogs are exposed to five basic explosives groups that encompass the chemical compounds used in more than 19,000 explosives formulas. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), exposing canines to these various explosives families gives detection dogs the ability to detect the widest range of commercial or improvised explosives. The efficiency and mobility of canine detection dogs also allows for an effective search over a wide geography is a short timeframe.

T&M’s dogs are available for short-term, one-day or sweep, or longer-term contracts for venues that typically call for screens before each event.With many corporate clients, daily sweeps may be too much and T&M is contracted to conduct periodic “surprise” sweeps as a deterrence to plotters.

The price ranges from $600 to more than several thousand dollars per day depending on the level of the sweep, the number of dogs required (as they are effective for only a few hours), the expertise of the handlers and other factors.

A Breed Apart

Unlike numerous other security services firms that rent their dogs from breeders and contract with outside handlers to manage the dogs and provide detection services, T&M has made a commitment to purchasing their own detection dogs and training them side-by-side with T&M’s own team of handlers. T&M owns and kennels nine dogs at their canine operations and training facility in Queens, N.Y., allowing the company’s senior management to oversee activity from its headquarters facility in New York’s financial district. Such close proximity has also allowed T&M to deploy its canine units rapidly during emergencies or increased threats, particularly changes in the Department of Homeland Security’s threat alert.

Each dog has its own distinct personality, behavior characteristics and abilities. Solis, who has trained more than 30 handlers for T&M, believes in T&M’s Multiple Dog Handler System. This approach provides the flexibility required for today’s hectic and indemand working environment Two or three handlers are trained to work with each dog.

By cross-training with the dogs, handlers get to know the personalities, strengths and weaknesses of each dog. Handlers are able to bond and establish a working partnership that dramatically improves performance.

T&M also strives to schedule the same dog and handler for the same client locations, building familiarity that improves the ability to detect new or out-of-the-ordinary changes in the environment, such as unusual packages or odors that may otherwise go undetected.

T&M’s handlers undertake a rigorous 30- hour explosives recognition and handling course, spending the first 10 hours in theory and technical information regarding the characteristics of various explosives. Handlers learn how to conduct a room search, look for traps and to recognize suspicious objects in their surroundings. Handlers eventually begin working with the dogs to see how the dogs behave when they find questionable materials, their reactions to various stimulants and other characteristics. While most dogs are trained to sit when they sniff an explosives odor, Solis points out that the dog is only as good as the person at the other end of a six-foot leash. The handlers must know each dog’s early signals for an explosives odor.

Training for the T&M team of explosivesdetection canines is a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week effort. Solis works with the dogs each day and sleeps at the kennel three days a week. The dogs first learn to detect a possible explosive by associating an explosives odor with food.

Many times, they learn this through a line discrimination exercise where different materials are placed in containers. When dogs find a container with an explosive material, they are rewarded with a treat. Dogs also may be rewarded with play and toys, but food, said Solis, is the primary driver. In fact, every meal is an opportunity to train and reinforce correct responses. “We’ve developed our own process for recording, tracking, monitoring and evaluating the performance of each dog,”

said Solis. “From what and when they eat, to their sleeping patterns, work performance and more, everything is recorded and monitored to ensure peak performance. We only wish we could do the same with the handlers, but they don’t really want to spend many nights in the kennel.”

 

Joseph Ricci is senior consultant and CEO of Ricci Communications, a marketing firm serving the security industry.