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TSA gets bomb-sniffing dogs

By Maria Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

Security officials say Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport's newest explosive-detection tools will use their noses to sniff out potentially dangerous devices.

The Transportation Security Administration recently created five new canine teams to detect explosive devices in cargo areas at Hartsfield-Jackson. One of the teams is already at work, while the other four teams are awaiting TSA certification.

TSA officials expect the teams to begin work in the spring.

The Atlanta airport is one of about 20 airports where TSA-led canine teams are being deployed, said Jonathan Allen, southeast public affairs manager for the federal security agency. While MARTA and the Atlanta Police Department have used explosive-detection dogs at the airport in the past, these are the first teams at the airport working for the TSA, Allen said.

"What's new about the program is that TSA is now certifying its own employees to be explosive-detection canine handlers," Allen said. "The five TSA-led teams will focus primarily on cargo bound for passenger aircraft."

He said Atlanta Police and MARTA, which are helping the TSA teams get acclimated to duty at the airport, will continue using their canine teams even after the four TSA teams in training receive their certification.

The dogs and handlers go through a 10-week course together at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, Allen said. "The training includes search techniques for aircraft, baggage, vehicles and transportation structures, as well as procedures for identifying dangerous materials and alerting the handler when these materials are present," he said.

Explosive-detection canines signal the presence of a potentially explosive device to their handler by backing away from it, and sitting. The TSA uses several different dog breeds because of their abilities and aptitudes.

"German shepherds, Belgian malinoises, vizslas and other types of dogs are used in the program because of their keen noses and affinity for this type of work," Allen said.

"Canine teams are a fast, efficient and cost-effective way to detect explosives," said Beth Shockley, assistant federal security director for the TSA in Atlanta. "These new TSA teams will be dedicated to air cargo screening but will be available to assist in other areas when there's a need."