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Amparo Bertram

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06:21 am: Here a bug, there a bug...
This past week has been devoted to identifying insects. The majority of the samples are actually the insect larvae, because those are what we are most likely to encounter when we examine the stuff that comes across the border.

Ever spend eight hours counting hairs on caterpillars under a microscope?

The way the system works, if we intercept any bugs or pests at our ports, we have to send the bug to an official identifier to determine whether the item needs to be treated in some fashion, or whether the pest is okay to let into the country (because we already have it here). This isn't so much a problem when searching passenger luggage, because we just confiscate the item and the passenger never gets it back anyway. But in cargo, when someone brings in a shipment of produce worth thousands (or even millions) of dollars, they really want to know in a hurry whether they can bring it in to sell or whether something has to be done with it. That's why they train the port agriculture specialists to recognize commonly intercepted pests. If the person at the port recognizes a specific pest correctly a certain number of times, that person gets "release authority" for that pest, which means the person can make the decision on the spot about what to do rather than wait for the identifier.

From our training here, we will get release authority over certain things, depending on whether we answer the questions correctly on our tests.

This week we're going to switch to a new unit on beetle larvae. After that we will start practicing actual interception; that is, we have to cut open fruit and such to search for bugs.

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[User Picture]
From:mangaroo
Date:October 27th, 2008 05:36 pm (UTC)
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Perhaps you saw this in your early training at the airport -- is the equipment required to identify these insects located at the initial inspection site, or do you have to take the sample back to your offices in the airport to make the identification?

I'm also curious about release authority. It seems to me that an individual with release authority on a great number of pests is more valuable than someone with few (or none!). Is there a minimal number of pests you're required to identify to pass? Is the whole release authority issue a byproduct of the required 80% to pass?

(I lack an icon suitable for pest posts.)
[User Picture]
From:spacealien_vamp
Date:October 27th, 2008 08:24 pm (UTC)
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is the equipment required to identify these insects located at the initial inspection site, or do you have to take the sample back to your offices in the airport to make the identification?

The passenger inspection station doesn't have the equipment, other than maybe a white tray and some tweezers; they just confiscate everything dubious and send it to the workroom in the back. The cargo inspectors are provided a working space on the site. Often they have to crawl inside the cargo containers to check for snails and wood-boring beetles.

Is there a minimal number of pests you're required to identify to pass? Is the whole release authority issue a byproduct of the required 80% to pass?

Release authority is only incidental to passing. Since you could acquire it on the job by doing interceptions anyway, they don't make it a requirement.
[User Picture]
From:devimustang0929
Date:October 27th, 2008 10:35 pm (UTC)
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Wow. Now that's power. Commerce in the palm of your hand.
[User Picture]
From:spacealien_vamp
Date:October 29th, 2008 10:17 am (UTC)
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It certainly is a lot of power. I hadn't realized how much when I took the job. It's also why they're so focused on anti-corruption, since you can imagine how much impact a bad apple could have.
[User Picture]
From:sara_tanaquil
Date:October 29th, 2008 02:58 am (UTC)
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Wow. When they start doing the actual interception practice, how will they know some of the fruit they give you actually has bugs to find? Or is it part of the reality that a certain percentage statistically will?

This sounds like such a cool job. (Apart from the actual bug-handling.)
[User Picture]
From:spacealien_vamp
Date:October 29th, 2008 10:23 am (UTC)
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When they start doing the actual interception practice, how will they know some of the fruit they give you actually has bugs to find?

I guess I'll find out...

Or is it part of the reality that a certain percentage statistically will?

One of the teachers actually told us that an unfortunate byproduct of taking this class is that we will find far more bugs in our food now because we know what to look for. @_@

This sounds like such a cool job.

I'm really excited about it. I can hardly wait to get back and put all this stuff into practice.
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