Dogs step up to patrol airports, rails
More bomb-sniffing dogs than ever are patrolling the nation’s airports and rail stations, and more are likely on the way as the federal government tries to blanket the nation’s transportation hubs with highly visible security, according to USA Today.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) plans to add 45 dogs next year, primarily to patrol subway and rail systems as well as a few large airports that currently do not use them.
There are 420 TSA-trained dogs patrolling 75 of the nation’s largest airports and 13 major transit systems.
On Sept. 11, 2001, there were 174 dogs in 39 airports, according to TSA.
The TSA seeks to make canine teams so prevalent in transit hubs that suicide bombers would believe they would be caught before they could strike.
“They have phenomenal deterrent value. We deploy them so people know that they’re there,” says Earl Morris, deputy chief of the TSA’s office of security operations, in the article.
Dogs can project a forceful image that reassures travelers.
“For the public, they convey the message that security is happening,” Tom Farmer, head of TSA’s mass-transit division, told a recent rail-security conference. “They look good. They’re imposing. They inspire fear about what the dogs can detect.”
Some experts, however, question the dogs’ limits and effectiveness.
A Homeland Security Department test conducted last year in Atlanta’s subway system found that dogs grew tired after 45 minutes and needed air flow to pick up the scent of explosives.
“Dogs are relatively expensive, a lot of training is required, and there’s a very limited duration that they can work,” says Geoffrey Barrall, a chemist who led a group at General Electric that developed airport-screening machines. “When they get tired, you usually have no way of knowing.”
Homeland security analyst Matthew Farr of the Frost and Sullivan says dogs “don’t have enough of a presence to really be a deterrent. There’s a lot of room to expand their use.”
The TSA currently uses German shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Vizslas, and trains them at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
The TSA wants to increase spending on dogs from $27 million to $30.5 million next year, using the extra money to supply more rail systems.
Transit agencies like using dogs but worry about devoting a full-time officer to one, said Greg Hull, security director for the American Public Transportation Association. “There’s a cost involved,” Hull says in the article.
In airports, dogs sniff cargo, luggage, passengers and planes. In rail stations, they focus on passengers and their bags.