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Lance Cpl. Andrew Gabbard, a patrolman with the Provost Marshal’s Office, equips the Fido Portable Explosives Detector during a training seminar at PMO’s headquarters building aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, June 13. The Fido detection system is able to analyze air molecules in an effort to “sniff out” bomb materials’ scents, either in cars or on the clothes of a suspect.

Photo by Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

Some dogs are taught to fetch sticks; this Fido is taught to fetch bombs

13 Jul 2011 | Cpl. Jonathan G. Wright

According to various biologists and archeologists, the first domesticated canines were brought into family life some 15,000 years ago with the taming of the gray wolf. In the following centuries, the domestication was bred into each following generation until it became hereditary and branched off from its wolf ancestors to become modern-day dogs. These dogs, whose purpose was molded into that of human companionship, are now being used for a variety of functions today.

One of these strengths is a dog’s highly-developed sense of smell, able to sniff out the most diminutive scents, such as chemical fluctuations in the human body. It is for this reason that the Department of Defense utilizes dogs as narcotic and explosive detectors, being able to register the smells telling of hidden drugs or bombs – a capability vitally important in today’s realm of security defense.

However, the technology for detecting these scents goes beyond the adopting of the Military Working Police Dog. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, working on their “Dog’s Nose Program,” developed a piece of technology that mimics a MWPD’s smelling capabilities – its operating system now being taught to Marines and civilians with the Provost Marshal’s Office aboard Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune.

“This system does not give you false positives,” said Eric Raduenz, a regional equipment trainer with the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosives Installation Preparedness aboard the base. “If you get a hit on the ‘Fido,’ you have a person with explosives.”

The Fido Portable Explosives Detector version 4.0 is the latest in bomb-detecting technology designed to be used during the Random Anti-Terrorism Measure roadblocks, scanning vehicles for explosives utilizing nothing but the air.

A hand-held device attached to a control box and battery pack, the Fido system runs in either basic or expert mode, the latter having two modes of reading for explosive materials. The two modes in expert, vapor and particulate, either read the air inside of a vehicle for explosive materials’ molecules or read a sample of swabbed oils from a person’s hands or clothing.

The Fido’s hand-held scanner is equipped with a miniature fan, pulling the air into it and running it through a thin, glass tube which acts as a filter. When explosive particles run through that tube, an alarm goes off on the control box portion, recording the readings for further investigative evidence.

“The Fido is able to read and identify explosive molecules at a parts-per-billion level,” said Raduenz. “That means if there is one explosive molecule hidden in one billion clean ones; the Fido will be able to detect it.”

While this piece of explosive identification technology is akin to what some of the MWPDs are trained to do, it is stressed that it is by no means a replacement for the dogs. On average, a dog provides 15 minutes of solid work before becoming tired; the Fido system is limited only to its battery pack.

“The dogs serve a purpose, and this program is not meant to replace them,” said Lance Cpl. Andrew Gabbard, a patrolman with PMO. “With these, we’ll have the capabilities of the dogs without actually needing them with us, allowing them to be working elsewhere.”

Terrorism is a daily threat in this century as overseas conflicts not only lengthen, but also multiply. Ensuring safety precautions and technology is utilized on the home front as well as the front lines are vital in survival, and the Fido Portable Explosives Detector is one more way for the service members and civilians aboard MCB Camp Lejeune to safeguard against attack.