NEWS

Are Dogs the Solution for Airport Security Screening?

By Matthew Harwood

While the mass protests against full body scans and enhanced pat downs never materialized last week, the search is still on for screening methods that don't offend people's dignity or scare up radiation concerns.

One solution that has been repeatedly advanced is deploying more bomb-sniffing dogs underneath the Transportation Security Administration's National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program.

As The Christian Science Monitor reports today, bomb-sniffing dogs have screened passenger cargo for decades and currently sniff for explosives across mass transit systems as well as in Afghanistan and Iraq. The use of bomb-sniffing dogs at airports has also received approval internationally. In June,  the European Union approved the use of bomb-sniffing dogs to screen airline passengers.

But, as CSM notes, bomb-sniffing dogs present a multitude of problems that make their use at security checkpoints less than ideal.

Concerns about costs and passenger resistance (whether possible allergic reactions or fear of being bitten) top the list. Training a single dog and the dog's handler can take 10 weeks or more, not including regular recertification. Moreover, real explosives must be used to train dogs, which can be both inconvenient and potentially hazardous.

One big concern, [security consultant] Mr. Price notes, is that explosive-sniffing dogs are effective for only one or two 30-minute sessions a day. They may become ineffective after that, mostly because they get bored, he says. Their record is not perfect, either. Earlier this month, bomb-sniffing dogs in England initially failed to detect bomb material hidden in printer cartridges shipped from Yemen. Three bomb-sniffing dogs assigned to inspect cargo at Philadelphia International Airport earlier this year were reported to fail recertification tests.

There's also the issue of cost. Full body scanners cost approximately $150,000, but TSA has not performed comprehensive testing to determine whether dogs or full body scanners can better detect threats more cost-effectively, according to CSM.

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