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Transportation Security Administration

Sniffing Out Danger

Tuesday, March 10, 2020
LGA K9

What’s your reaction when you detect the tantalizing aroma of popcorn at the movie theater or the first, sweet whiff of early morning coffee? How do your senses respond when you realize you smell gas or smoke indoors? Odors produce strong responses. A well-trained nose roots out danger.

Detecting explosive threats with the usK9 in actione of canine officers and their handlers is at the heart of a highly visible layer of TSA security. Our own experiences with dogs pull at heartstrings, but make no mistake, these canine officers and their partners mean business when you see them at the airport. 

The primary mission of explosive detection canines is to detect explosives’ odor. John Scomillio, deputy assistant federal security director at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, explains the relationship between dog and handler this way, “They trust each other completely and are there to protect and to serve the public, as well as each other, on a consistent basis.”

Scomillio said handlers and their dogs have a close bond.

“It’s often said that the handler’s emotions travel down the leash and can affect the performance and mental state of the K-9, he said. “As a former handler, I would have to agree.”

Keeping these two- and four-legged teams at the top of their “sniff game” takes work. A recently completed multiagency explosives detection training event at the TSA LaGuardia warehouse allowed representatives from TSA, the U.S. Coast Guard, FBI and regional police departments to share best practices. Scomillio provided logistical support for this unique training event.

Five explosive scent stations were constructed to introduce and challenge teams to successfully locate, detect and indicate a positive response to live explosive odor. Forty-eight canine teams and supporting personnel worked with other agencies to develop nontraditional techniques to improve canine explosives detection capabilities.

One of the benefits of this event “was the fostering of new relationships within the law enforcement canine community and in the improvement and well-established [relationships],” said Scomillio. Based on positive feedback of the event, spearheaded by Supervisory Transportation Security Specialist Nathan Case, more trainings at LaGuardia are planned.