Man’s best friend making Americans safer

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It’s been almost nine years since the tragic Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Although our country has not endured another attack since then, I always tell folks back in East Alabama that it’s not a matter of whether we’ll be attacked again, but when.

As Ranking Member of the Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response, one of my top priorities is ensuring modes of transportation across the United States are as safe as we can possibly make them.

Besides effectiveness, cost is one of the challenges we face in our drive to increase transportation safety. That’s why I strongly believe that canine detection teams should be one of the primary measures we incorporate into our overall security strategy. Detection canines are highly effective, rapidly deployable across our entire transportation system, and above all, cost efficient.

Since 2005, I have introduced legislation, traveled to on-site visits of canine training facilities, and gathered information from many sources on the enormous value of canines for explosive detection.

I am pleased that the fiscal 2011 budget request for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Transportation Security Administration (TSA) canine passenger screening program proposes an increase of $71 million for the deployment of 275 new canine detection teams. That’s a good start, but more should be done to help get even more detection canines on patrol. I would also like to see an additional training site, in addition to the TSA facility at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, built to speed the training and deployment of more canine teams. Ideally this new facility would be a partnership with the private sector.

An innovative technology that should be incorporated into our security strategy is the use of canines trained to detect the “vapor wake” of explosives. For example, Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, has pioneered this technology, which is currently used by the U.S. Capitol Police and on our national passenger rail carrier, Amtrak.

Canines trained in the vapor wake technique sniff the air flowing from moving objects or people, making it difficult for someone carrying explosives to evade the dogs. Use of this technique allows canines to roam transportation hubs with their handlers without having to interact directly with travelers; in fact, they can detect explosive wakes from up to hundreds of yards away.

It is important we strike while the iron is hot. Rarely does Congress have the opportunity to act quickly to use proven technology to increase our security in a cost effective manner. Indeed, by employing these assets on a greater scale, “man’s best friend” may help prevent the next terrorist attack and consequently help save American lives.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) is Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Emergency Communications, Preparedness and Response, and serves on the House Armed Services Committee.