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Dogs and drones from NC will keep watchful eye over the Super Bowl this weekend


The Super Bowl is the pinnacle of American sports — watched by millions and attended by tens of thousands.

And with that attention comes intense security.

More than a million people are expected to visit Atlanta for the game and two Triangle companies are tasked with monitoring the festivities.

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Stealth Vigilance K-9, a Raleigh company that provides bomb-detecting dogs for events, as part of the extensive security arrangements — and so will Apex drone company Vector Aerial, which is providing drone surveillance of crowds for CNN.

The two firms — both owned by military veterans — contract security and surveillance work and said working during one of the busiest sporting events in the country could be a boon to their company’s reputation.

Stealth Vigilance, whose founders are also former Michigan police officers, will be taking two of its bomb-detecting dogs — Barkley and Watson — to Atlanta to monitor the crowds for potential terrorist threats, said Geoff Beckwith, a founder and the chief operating officer for Stealth Vigilance.

The dogs are not the typical bomb-sniffing dogs you often see police use, added Beckwith, who worked with dogs in the police force.

Rather they are two of 130 dogs worldwide that have been trained at Vapor Wake Canine in Alabama, where they learn to track the odors from explosive materials on moving objects, like people. Usually, police dogs are limited to sniffing non-moving objects, like a parked car, Beckwith said. Dogs trained at Vapor can monitor 150 people a minute, he said.

Stealth’s two dogs are the only ones in North Carolina with that capability, and they often provide security around the Triangle at places such as Duke University athletic events and performances at the Durham Performing Arts Center. (The company also has several traditional police dogs.)

Barkley, a dog that is trained to track odors released by explosive materials, will be in Atlanta this weekend for the Super Bowl with the Raleigh company Stealth Vigilance K-9. Courtesy of Stealth Vigilance K-9

“The dogs do the same standard stationary detection that you would find in a police bomb dog, things like cars and unattended bags,” he said. “But they can also detect explosive odors that are moving, like a suicide bomber in a crowd and they can track that person. ... so we were asked to come down as an additional layer of security.”

Beckwith said he thinks having the Super Bowl on the small company’s resume — it currently has nine employees — will help them attract more clients.

“I think it establishes our credibility and it demonstrates our capabilities,” he said. ”Having the NFL place their trust in us and the capability of our dogs just demonstrates our ability to work an event that really has world recognition.”

Up next for the company: acquiring more dogs.

CNN deal a new avenue for Vector

For Vector Aerial, which was founded in 2014, the Super Bowl is a chance to work with a different kind of client. The company, which offers drone services and support, usually works with law enforcement departments across the country, usually signing non-disclosure agreements in the process, meaning they don’t get to talk about their work.

So, signing onto helping CNN cover the crowds at the Super Bowl is a bit of a departure for the company, said Vector Aerial co-founder Brendon Bartholomew.

Bartholomew said CNN was interested in working with the company because of the tethers it uses with its drones that stretch as long as 300 feet. Usually, drones can only fly for around half an hour before their batteries get low — but with the tethers, which supply power, they can fly for several hours, allowing CNN to shoot extensive drone footage from its rooftop near the stadium.

“CNN heard about (the tethers) and wanted to know about our expertise,” Bartholomew said. “We did some training with them and provided them some material solutions and they really liked it and they wanted to jump into it. The Super Bowl is a big thing but this is more of a launching point” for future events perhaps such as the Democratic National Convention or the Presidential Inauguration.

A visual of a flooded house during Hurricane Florence taken by a drone from Vector Aerial, a drone company based in Apex. Courtesy of Vector Aerial

Typically, Vector’s services have been used by law enforcement agencies who don’t have the resources of a helicopter or need to get visuals quick for a search and rescue. Its drones were used recently to monitor the damage of Hurricane Michael in Florida and to check flooded homes during Hurricane Florence in eastern North Carolina.

Vector is continuing to diversify its client base, Bartholomew added, even starting to work with farmers to show that they can spray crops with drones rather than small planes.

“Honestly one of the things we generally do with the law enforcement agencies is we sign NDAs and so we don’t talk publicly,” he said. “Working with CNN is a change for that because they are a journalistic outfit and they haven’t put any constraints on that. ... Not sure what it looks like for the future, but it’s a huge thing for our company that someone of that size trusting us.”

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