TSA trains bomb dog teams for transit systems|
by James Coburn
37th Training Wing Public Affairs
12/16/2005 - LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Six mass transit officers partnered with bomb dogs are graduating today at Lackland, marking the Transportation Security Administration’s first full-scale expansion into canine protection for people riding trains, light rail and buses in America’s major cities.
The TSA office on Lackland is sharing the costs of building seven dog-training laboratories at a cost of more than $4 million. A newly completed metal building with an interior like the secured departure and arrival area of an airline terminal is being used to train mass transit officers and explosives detection dogs. Another laboratory under construction will resemble a train station, with two train cars outside the building.
“We’ve been training at this base since 1972 and sharing training areas forever,” said Kevin Viator, chief of the TSA Support Branch at Lackland. The TSA was created from the Federal Aviation Administration in response to the terrorist attacks of 9-11. The Lackland branch, with a staff of 26, operates the National Explosives Detection Canine Team Program.
“We share facilities, and some resources, but it’s two completely independent programs,” Lt. Col. Kevin Bannister, commander of the 341st Training Squadron, said of the squadron’s longtime partnership with the agency. “It’s a partnership for the greater good. It’s a joint fight for the war on terrorism.”
The agency’s broader role overseeing all forms of public transportation and the increased terrorist threat to mass transit indicated by train bombings in Madrid and London have caused the canine program to expand significantly in recent years, the TSA’s Web site reports.
The six transit officers are from three systemsin Baltimore, and Boston. Also graduating today are six airport police officers and their dog partners from airports in Los Angeles, Phoenix, Cleveland, Greensboro, N.C., Little Rock, Ark., and Tulsa, Okla.
Mr. Viator said mass transit systems in 10 cities, including the initial three, will each get three officer/dog teams during this first year of expansion. Each team is funded with $40,000 from the TSA, including dogs, training and partial salaries for the officers. He said the reimbursement amount may change in subsequent years.
Lou Jones, an 11-year transit officer in Baltimore who is among the six graduates, said he requested a bomb-dog position eight years ago but could not get the money budgeted for it. “The assistance and the training that was available through TSA is what made it possible for us to get down here. So I was very excited for myself and my partner to be chosen,” he said.
Officer Jones said the Baltimore system has 14 subway stations; 30 light rail stations; a commuter train, the West Virginia/Maryland line that runs to Union Station in D.C.; and thousands of miles of bus lines. He said the subway and light rail take people to business, cultural and sports areas in Baltimore, including Raven Stadium, Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor where thousands gather for New Year’s and Fourth of July fireworks shows.
Other agencies with dogs have assisted the transit system, Officer Jones said, but since 9-11, “Everybody’s taxed severely, and for us to get the help, they hesitate coming in unless we have a specific item we want checked. That’s why it’s very important for us to have it for prevention and to handle the load. There’s a lot going on. It’s a big area.”
With today’s graduation, airports will have 361 canine teams and mass transit systems 12 teams, all trained by the TSA at Lackland. The branch has nine classes a year, with 12 officers per class.