Putting the 73 million pet dogs to work in the field of bomb-sniffing or chemical detection.
The other day while flying through Chicago O’Hare, I heard an announcement over the public message system: “Department of Homeland Security has determined we are in an Orange alert. Any bags left unattended will be removed.” The message, which was broadcast repeatedly every few minutes, was in a very loud and pitchy voice, designed to catch everyone’s attention. Even the most jaded of road warriors such as me, could not help but take notice. It affected me the same way TV or newspaper stories on terrorist (which despite what George Bush wants to believe, does not rhyme with tourist) attacks do. It made me want to spend some time on the gun range.
I know from conversations with people in my personal and Internet life, this is a shared sentiment. Recently though I speculated on just how useful a firearm would be under an actual terrorist attack. Would there be enough time to actually shoot off a few rounds at the perpetrators before they blow themselves as well as others up? So I’ve come up with an additional proposal: Send our pet dogs to bomb-sniffing or biological and chemical-agent-detection school.
You might be thinking, there must be equipment out there already doing this work. Well, you are partially correct. Mechanical detectors are available, capable of detecting biological and chemical agents, but they are very costly and have limitations.
Biological detection systems are currently in the research and early development stages. There are some commercially available devices that have limited utility (responding only to a small number of agents) and are generally high cost items. Because commercially available BW detection systems and/or components exhibit limited utility in detecting and identifying BW agents and are also costly, it is strongly recommended that first responders be very careful when considering a purchase of any device that claims to detect BW agents. This is a very different situation when compared to chemical detection equipment; there are various technologies for detection of chemical agents and toxic industrial materials (TIMs) that can be purchased by the emergency first responder. One reason for the lack of available biological detection equipment is that detection of biological agents requires extremely high sensitivity (because of the very low effective dose needed to cause infection and spread the disease) and an unusually high degree of selectivity (because of the large and diverse biological background in the environment).
Another reason for the lack of biological detection equipment is that biological agents are very complex systems of molecules compared to chemical agents, which makes them much more difficult to identify. For example, Ionization/Ion Mobility Spectrometry (IMS), an excellent (though expensive) system for collection, detection, and identification of chemical agents, cannot detect or discriminate biological agents in its present form. In fact, the need for high efficiency collection and concentration of the sample, high sensitivities, and high selectivities make all chemical detectors in their current form unusable for biological agent detection.
However, Detection Support Services claims a properly trained bomb dog is considered superior to current machine technology, especially in areas of sensitivity, mobility, and user friendliness (Institute for Biological Detection Systems, 1999). Adding, “Law enforcement and military bomb dogs were in very short supply before the devastating terrorist attack on 11 September 2001. Subsequent to 11 September, the requests for bomb dogs have out stripped all available resources.” Meanwhile there are 73 million pet dogs in the United States, all of which could be pressed into service.
Imagine every time you walk your dog, particularly if you live in an inner city, your pet companion could be on guard duty, helping to save a nation. Or what about those of you, who fly with your little dogs, wouldn’t their bomb sniffing skills make you feel more secure, knowing they would alert you to danger. Better yet, how about putting a trained dog on every flight? Certainly that would be less costly than an Air Marshall. Of course, an Air Marshall could shoot a terrorist dead, but what if they never get a chance to fire off a single round? Wouldn’t a dog on board be a visible cue not just to the passengers, but to terrorists as well? A dog could even work in conjunction with an Air Marshall; as a double team. So instead of just sending our dogs to obedience school, why not also train them in the fine art of bomb or chemical detection.