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Canine detection

North American authorities are embracing canine screening by certified private providers. Ian Putzger examines how the programme is unfolding, as well as other technologies in the air cargo screening market
Dogs are finally in action at US air cargo facilities. The long awaited four-legged reinforcements for air cargo security efforts commenced work on 2 January this year. Owing to the US government shutdown, which rendered the Transportation Security Agency (TSA) unavailable for clarification on questions and concerns, the programme got off to a wobbly start, but this could not dent the widespread sense of relief that it is finally in place.
“It’s been a long road. The industry has been advocating private canine screening for a decade,” says Marc Murphy, Director, Air Cargo and Aviation at MSA Security, the first provider that obtained certification from the TSA for its canine programme. MSA has used canine teams for screening in other jurisdictions for more than four years, and Murphy reports that it has been very successful. 
“We feel canine is the most effective way of screening, particularly when it comes to cargo,” he says. Looking at his company’s use of canine screening in Europe, David Clark, Head of Safety and Security at handling firm Worldwide Flight Services (WFS), concurs. “It’s proven effective and efficient,” he comments. “The only downsides are some limitations on physical shipment heights that can be ‘sniffed’ safely by dogs, and that our four-legged friends are ‘non-compliant’ if they have a cold.”
One operator at Miami International Airport brought in dogs from another city when its screening technology broke down, reports Mark O. Hatfield Jr, Director of Public Safety and Security at the Metro Dade Aviation Department, which manages the airport. “Third-party canine services add a new dimension to security screening. They add flexibility and capability, and increase throughput and speed,” he says.
The Canadian authorities are moving in the same direction as their southern neighbours. A working group has been set up to develop a canine air cargo screening programme. According to one party involved in this, Transport Canada aims to have the regime up and running by the end of this year. The TSA has issued strict guidelines on the work-rest ratio for dogs. This is very much workable, according to Murphy, but how long a dog team can actually work depends on its environment. 
This encompasses climatic aspects (such as Miami versus Chicago), as well as the physical make-up of a facility, how cargo is stacked, and the noise level and vehicle movements in the warehouse.“Before we deploy a team, we do a pre-canine utilisation assessment, Murphy says, adding that he highly recommends this for any facility where canine screening is under consideration.
The rise of e-commerce has changed requirements for cargo facility design, but it has no impact on canine inspection, according to Murphy. “The configuration doesn’t matter as long as the dogs get access to odour,” he says. The very appeal of canine screening could be an Achilles heel, though, remarks Brandon Fried, Executive Director of the US Airforwarders Association, who has been a tireless and vocal advocate for the use of private canine screening.
“We may well see a demand spike. Ultimately, we could have a shortage of canines,” he remarks. Finding enough suitable dogs is not an easy task. A cargo warehouse is not an ideal working environment for animals, given the amount of movement and noise levels. Some qualified dogs are not suitable for that environment. MSA aims to get 200 teams or more certified and operational this year.
“The programme requires a certain amount of training for certification. In addition, we have our own training requirements,” says Murphy. “The barriers to entry are high. The TSA is not going to allow just any dog team to scan freight,” remarks Fried, adding that certification updates will be required frequently. At this point it is unclear who will embrace canine screening. Fried reckons that the integrated carriers, as well as airlines and large handling companies, will go for this, whereas forwarders will likely have their cargo screened at the airport.
To be eligible for canine screening, forwarders and shippers have to be registered in the TSA’s Certified Cargo Screening Programme (CCSP), he points out. “Interest across the spectrum of the industry is extremely strong. They all see the benefits,” remarks Murphy. Clark cautions that canine screening is not a silver bullet but part of a multi-layered security system. “We’ve been investing in other solutions. Canine should align with those,” he says.
“For every technique there are limitations,” comments Hatfield. For more than three years now, he and his team at Miami have been focused on an initiative that takes a holistic approach to cargo security, from access control and personnel vetting to better lighting, strengthening of fences and stepping up patrols. He would like to see progress with screening technology that can check full pallets, which would produce considerable time savings over the current need to break these down for screening. 
“Today there are large tunnel x-ray scanners available to screen cargo of this size, however, the regulations at present preclude these solutions from being used due to the requirements to detect threats of a particular type and size. The larger the cargo, especially if it is mixed, the more complex the image is to evaluate. The security measures in place today are reflective of the balance between detection and package size and type,” observes Cameron Mann, Global Market Director for Aviation at Smiths Detection.
“The increasing use of AI will support operators in making better decisions,” he adds. MSA offers a patented advanced alarm resolution process that combines canine screening with technology for a layered approach, whereby a dog checks the cargo in the first step. If the animal indicates a potential threat, the identified package is extracted and x-rayed. If necessary, the suspicious x-ray image can be transmitted to the MSA Emergency Operations Centre, which is operational 24/7/365 for real-time analysis and resolution.
In 2017, Smiths Detection was the first security solutions provider to receive TSA approval under the agency’s elevated security requirements for an explosives trace detection system. The company's IONSCAN 600 is a portable desktop trace detection system that spots minute quantities of explosives, as well as narcotics like Fentanyl, within seconds. >>

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