Sniffing For Trouble – K9 Dogs In High Demand for Airport Security. Humans Can Help.

We’ve all seen them – those four footed heroes sniffing around airports, train stations and public events, a reminder that threats could arrive anytime. While we may want to reach out and pet the dogs, we know better – their vests and humans on the other end of the leash are a clear sign that these pups are on duty and not to be bothered. Airport K9s are usually specialists, only there to sniff out explosives.  Their job is serious and airports prefer that only police officers handle these Service Trained Canines (K9), to ensure that proper action can be taken immediately if a dog signals a potential issue.

This week ELERTS attended the Airports Council International – North America Public Safety and Security Fall Conference in Arlington, VA. K9 units were one topic of discussion around the future of airport security. These dogs play an integral role in protecting airports in both public and sterile areas.  The TSA wants more dogs in airports. The challenge is that they are in such high demand that there are not enough trained and certified dogs to supplement the current needs. The cost is also high, with the GAO estimating each K9 dog costs $164,000 per year, on average. It was mentioned at the conference that significant federal funding is expected to be devoted for K9 training and certification programs.

The benefits of using K9s in Law Enforcement are apparent and will continue to play a role in protecting airports. That being said, there is also another option for helping to identify suspicious packages, behaviors and people. There’s plenty of availability and the cost is quite low – free, in fact. 

People with smartphones.

Like a dog with a strong nose, people, too, are great sensors for trouble. With the commonality of attacks taking place around the world – on transit systems, airports, sidewalks and concerts.  Airport employees and the public are needed more than ever to keep their eyes and ears open.  And, when human intuition is combined with a smartphone app that lets them quickly and discreetly report what they see and hear to the police, the airport crowd becomes a powerful force in public safety. 

While security agencies and police continuously seek easier-to-use, more effective tools to protect people and infrastructure, they must not miss the power of crowdsourcing as an important, cost-effective resource. Dogs are great – but people are, too. We know that people will help people if they have the right tools. That’s why at ELERTS, we created a public safety communications platform centered on the power and popularity of smartphones. ELERTS’ “See Something Say Something” apps are already deployed at 16 leading transit agencies, many that connect people to airports. 

The future of airport safety and all public safety will continue to involve some tried and traditional methods, like K9s, but must also embrace the future – the power of crowdsourcing.