Bomb-sniffing K-9s to nose around cargo areas

By Jim Tharpe
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

ATLANTA — Bomb-sniffing dogs are nothing new at Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport, but they're about to be given a new task.

The Transportation Security Administration, the federal agency responsible for providing airport security, plans to begin using the specially trained dogs to screen cargo being loaded aboard passenger planes at the nation's busiest airport.

Two Atlanta-based TSA inspectors will begin training in Texas on Monday in preparation for using the dogs at Hartsfield-Jackson, and additional teams could be added later.

The deployment of these cargo-screening teams is designed to complement the law enforcement teams already being used at larger airports, like Atlanta's.

Hartsfield-Jackson spokesman Herschel Grangent said explosives-detecting dogs regularly patrol the city-run airport. Those teams belong to the Atlanta Police Department and coordinate with the TSA.

"When it gets busy, we try to make sure they're visible," Grangent said. "But they're always around."

The new program, however, marks the first time that TSA is training its own employees to handle explosives-detecting dogs. The TSA teams will spend the vast majority of their time searching air cargo destined for passenger planes. The teams can also be deployed in other areas of the airport if necessary.

"Canine teams are one of the quickest, most efficient means of detecting explosives," TSA administrator Kip Hawley said.

The agency plans to train and certify more than 400 explosives detection canine teams, composed of one dog and one handler, during the next two years.

Eighty-five of these teams will be TSA employee-led and primarily will search cargo bound for passenger-carrying aircraft.

The first TSA teams began training in January and graduated today after a 10-week training course at Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio. The teams are expected to be fully operational by summer.

The TSA teams will be deployed to airports with the greatest volume of cargo on passenger-carrying aircraft.

Copyright 2008 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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