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Carlos Serrano has eye for danger
Hartsfield-Jackson bomb appraisal officer works to keep travelers safe

By Maria Jose Subiria

msubiria@news-daily.com

Carlos Serrano is one of six bomb appraisal officers at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport charged with keeping the employees, and the traveling public, safe and out of danger.

He is trained to respond to items that could be of potential danger to employees and travelers at security checkpoint and baggage claim areas. He can determine a threat by his examination of an X-ray taken in security checkpoint areas. The bomb appraisal officers work to respond within minutes to the site of an incident.

"I do a search of the X-ray image, a detailed search, and I am looking for possible components of explosive devices, or prohibited items," Serrano said.

"They [transportation security officers] would notify their supervisor on the scene. They would exhaust resources to identify what's on the screen, and use an explosive trace detection machine to see if there's any explosive residue," said Serrano. "If they feel they [suspicious items] fit descriptions of components, they will call me."

Once a determination is made of the severity of a device, or weapon, Serrano, or one of the five other bomb appraisal officers, perform a physical inspection, or they contact the bomb squad officers for further assistance in transporting the device away from the airport, Serrano explained.

"We assist them [bomb squad officers] with all the information gathered and crowd control," he added. If nothing dangerous is found, normal security checkpoint area operations resume within minutes, he said.

Serrano, a retired bomb squad officer from the City of Atlanta Police Department, said he has been a bomb appraisal officer for the Transportation Security Administration at Hartsfield-Jackson since Oct. 12.

Originally from Manhattan, N.Y., Serrano's interest in serving and protecting civilians began when his father joined the military, he said.

He said he admired his father's patriotism and sense of duty to his country, so he joined the military in 1974, and worked in the infantry. He was based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.

"What made it easier for me, was the military way of life," said Serrano. "Paying attention to details, taking care of myself, my equipment, and watching out for others."

Serrano finished his military career in 1978, he said, and moved back to Manhattan. After 30 days of living in New York, he said he came to visit a friend in Atlanta, and was so attracted to the city he decided to permanently make it his home.

Serrano said he worked a couple of odd jobs before becoming an Atlanta policeman in 1978. In 1983, he said, he joined the department's special operations section as an undercover agent. Shortly after, he said he moved on to work in the SWAT team, and in 1987 he became a bomb squad officer.

"When I was in the bomb squad ... there was an incident in the [airport's] checkpoint area, where soldiers brought hand grenades," he said. "The X-ray image was there, and we took the necessary precautions of retrieving the hand grenades, and transporting them away from the airport."

After almost three decades with the Atlanta Police Department, Serrano said he decided it was time for retirement. He said his last day on the bomb squad was in August, but that didn't last long. He soon landed his present job with TSA.

"That's my drug," he said. "I like helping folks, and there's nothing wrong with it."

Serrano said he also works to educate transportation security officers on what to look for.

"The most challenging part is getting out there, and teaching folks, because there are so many things out there the TSO's can encounter," said Serrano. "The difficult part is putting together different items, and trying to keep them up to date with all the intelligence out there."

Serrano said for him, and the TSA team, the security of the airport and its passengers is no laughing matter.

Recently, he said, a passenger at Hartsfield-Jackson made an off-hand remark to officers regarding a suspicious item spotted in a bag.

"The passenger made a statement that it was a C-4 [plastic explosive]," he said. "It was a joke, but it wasn't taken as a joke. He was checked, and it was not taken as humor. He was a young soldier, and it's unfortunate he made such a comment in such a nonchalant way."