Monday, May 6, 2013

Could Vapor Wake Dogs Have Prevented the Boston Marathon Bombing?

A number of people reported seeing sniffer dogs at the Boston Marathon. According to the Boston Globe 11 dogs were there. The bombs went off anyway
People at the scene were reportedly told, "It's just a drill."
Maybe the Tsarnaev brothers just waited until the dogs had left before placing their explosives.

One article I read suggested that dogs might have been unable to smell the explosives because they were inside a pressure cooker, which would have masked the odor. That seems unlikely to me. Bomb sniffing dogs are about 95% accurate at finding explosives, almost no matter what they're inside and regardless of what they're mixed with.

I think the more likely explanation is that the explosives weren't in anything the dogs were asked to sniff.
He sniffs one package at a time.
Traditionally, bomb sniffing dogs go to airports or other locations where explosives might be hidden and sniff luggage, backpacks, and other possible bomb-concealing objects that they encounter. The handler largely directs where they should sniff, and they sniff one thing at a time.

This works pretty well if you have pile of luggage to inspect or a line of people waiting at a security checkpoint.
He is unlikely to miss a bomb in this situation.
It doesn't work very well at an event like the Boston Marathon, where people are moving fluidly, and anyone could put a bomb anywhere at any time, including in a vest, in shoes, or  in his underpants.
He was the inspiration for using Vapor Wake dogs in L.A.
It was in fact, the "underwear bomber," of 2009, who inspired Mike Downing, chief of counter-terrorism for the Los Angeles Police Department to look for another option.

What he found is the newest generation of explosives sniffing dogs--"vapor wake" dogs developed at Auburn University's College of Veterinary Medicine.
Chaci has followed the "vapor trail" to the explosives.
The dogs, which are patented and cost $20,000 each, are specially bred, and trained from birth to detect the scent left in the air by explosives. They can then follow in the wake of the scent, tracking it to the source.

They can smell explosives up to 15 minutes after the person carrying them has passed. They can catch the whiff of a would-be bomber from across the street. They can follow the scent trail through a moving crowd and alert the handler, both when they first detect the scent and when they locate its source.

The NYPD has been using them since 2010. Since the Boston Marathon bombing, they're getting a lot of interest from other agencies, as well as from the media.

 They might well have made a difference.
good informational video