Friday, March 14, 2008

Some of the Hardest Working Dogs in the Nation

So here we are in the year 2008, we have laptops as thin as a potato chip, cars that run on electricity or hydrogen and 400 channels of satellite TV beamed right to your living room…yet the best way we have to detect explosives in many environments is that 4-legged friend, the dog. That’s right, TSA uses all kinds of tools to ensure the safety of passengers; things like minivan-sized explosive detection systems How We Do What We Do: Baggage Screening, handheld liquid explosives scanners and many, many other devices but nothing out there today is as flexible or mobile as man’s best friend. None of these tools can search a plane in minutes or sniff a pallet of cargo without removing each individual box.

Today we announced that for the first time we will be training and deploying TSA employee-led canine teams to complement the 496 TSA trained and certified law enforcement teams stationed at 70 airports and 14 mass transit systems. These teams (one handler and one dog) go through the same exact training as our law enforcement teams but will focus on air cargo screening and be one part of our answer to screen all air cargo on passenger-carrying aircraft by August 2010. The handlers are all trained cargo security inspectors so they can cover both the explosive detection and screening side with their dog as well as making sure our partners are meeting their obligations from the regulatory side of the house.

Speaking of air cargo, some of you may not realize just how immense an operation it is to ship air cargo around the world. Commerce and customers have come to expect that millions of packages will fly around the world, arriving at their destination with amazing efficiency and accuracy. The volume is so large that, in addition to the cargo company’s trains, planes and automobiles, many packages often fly with your luggage in the belly of commercial passenger aircraft. Care packages sent to Billy in his dorm room or fruitcakes from your grandmother are sometimes stored below passenger’s feet, right next to suitcases. This is an important source of revenue for the airlines as well as a means for customers to get their packages on-time. Some less popular commercial flight routes survive solely as a result of the money brought in by transporting cargo.

Screening the large volume of cargo passing through the airports is a great challenge that TSA has been addressing since its inception. When the Baja Men so eloquently asked “Who Let the Dogs Out,” TSA answered the call by saying, “we did, we sir, let the dogs out.”

Since joining TSA in 2002 from the FAA, the expansion of the canine program has been huge but we are not stopping there. We plan to deploy 400 more specially trained bomb dogs in the next two years, 85 of which will be TSA teams (non-law enforcement teams) whose main duty will be to search cargo bound for passenger aircraft. The first 12 TSA teams graduated today and will be deployed in the coming months to Dulles International, John F. Kennedy International, Los Angeles International and Miami International Airports. So, by the end of 2009, we will have a force of about 800 bomb sniffing dogs from coast to coast.

While most of us are lucky if our family dog knows how to sit and stay, TSA’s specially trained dogs and handlers enhance the safety of the traveling public, one sniff at a time.

Make sure you read the canine article on the TSA web page.