The New York Police Department used a new breed of security at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade on Thursday: a team of Labrador retrievers trained to sniff out explosives on moving targets in large crowds.
The K9s completed an 18-month training program called “Vapor Wake.” The program, developed by the Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, trains dogs to follow mobile threats rather than sniffing out explosives in stationary objects.
The dogs may be the future of security for large crowds with the ability to detect a suicide bomber inside a stadium of 50,000 people, Rolling Stone reported. The dogs are trained to detect “thermal plumes left behind in a person’s wake,” said Paul Hammond, the president of VWK9 LLC, which runs the Vapor Wake program.
The program was started in response to the 2001 shoe-bombing. For over a decade Hammond has bred and trained dogs to detect faint whiffs of explosive particles within thermal heat plumes that people leave behind when walking, Wired reported.
A squad of 14 Vapor Wake retrievers was assigned to this year’s parade, in addition to conventional bomb-sniffing canines, Fox News reported.
— Cherese Cobb (@cherese_cobb) November 23, 2017
“You will see our vapor wake dogs and other canine dogs on both the balloons and during the route,” NYPD Chief of Patrol Terence Monahan told ABC 7.
Although the dogs are trained to detect smells in complex and evolving environments, the parade is a significant stress test for NYPD’s secret weapon, since more than a million people were expected to attend.
There were no credible threats before the parade and the event proceeded without incident. Authorities were on high alert nevertheless.
A posting in an English language ISIS terrorist group magazine last year identified the Thanksgiving parade as “an excellent target.”
Enter Vapor Wake retrievers.
“It is not distracted by the 80,000 people. It is not distracted by the thousands of vehicles passing by outside the stadium. It is not distracted by the trash can,” Hammond told Rolling Stone. “Since the Manchester attack, we’re inundated with calls.”
A suicide bomber killed 22 people at an Ariana Grande concert in May at an arena in Manchester. Since then, security advisors in the concert business have been pushing for intense technology upgrades to keep fans safe.
Tim Leiweke, a veteran promoter who works with 30 top stadiums and arenas, including New York’s Madison Square Garden, said that the Vapor Wake dogs could have detected the bombers at the Ariana Grande concert and the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.
“I go back and say, ‘Would that have happened if there were vapor wake dogs there?’ And every time, the answer is, ‘Probably not,'” he said. “What fascinates me is how good they are, how comprehensive they are and how deadly focused that nose is.”
In addition to the Vapor Wake dogs, NYPD deployed sharpshooters on rooftops and had officers with assault weapons and radiation detectors walk in the parade crowds.