The machines used to detect explosives at Portland International Jetport can sense minute traces of bomb residue, but they're not very mobile. When an airplane, a parking garage or a ferry needs to be checked, a dog is the security man's best friend.
Recognizing that, the Transportation Security Administration said Friday it is bringing to Maine six bomb-detection dogs to help secure transportation facilities around the state.
The agency's bomb dog program has established canine detection teams at major airports across the country, and now is being expanded to include Maine, according to a statement issued by Sen. Susan Collins, who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Each team costs about $40,000 a year.
Collins said the dogs will be available to police agencies ''strategically located near vital modes of transportation.''
The agencies have yet to be identified, though Portland, Bangor and the Maine State Police are likely candidates, officials said.
Robert Dyer, the TSA official overseeing transportation security in Maine, said he hopes to have the teams in place within the next few months.
''They'll be TSA-certified and specifically trained to handle all types of situations involving explosives, particularly in transportation,'' Dyer said. The TSA program usually employs German shepherds, Belgian Malanois and Labrador retrievers because of their temperament and acute senses, according to the agency.
Friday's announcement was made at the annual transportation security seminar hosted by TSA at the Holiday Inn West in Portland. The conference includes state, local and federal agencies.
Under the dog program, TSA pays for the dogs and the expense of training the animals and their handlers, who are part of existing security and law enforcement agencies. The bomb dogs can be deployed for other emergencies, such as sweeping a government building after a bomb threat.
Portland, the transportation nexus for southern Maine, has no bomb dog of its own, though one is in training, said Capt. Ted Ross, who oversees the city's bomb squad. The city does have a handful it can call on in an emergency, including dogs kept by the state police, Brunswick Naval Air Station and South Portland police.
But bomb dogs must be available 24 hours a day and close to important facilities. Adding to the existing number would improve flexibility and reduce waiting time, leading to better security decisions, Ross said.
''We are having a lot more calls because people are aware now and stay cognizant of their surroundings and so don't dismiss things that they might have,'' Ross said. Portland has expressed interest in hosting one of the bomb detection teams.
Each bomb dog team, composed of a dog and a handler, undergoes 10 weeks of training at the TSA's Explosives Detection Canine Handler Course at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. The TSA bomb dog program has 450 canine teams working across the country and was expanded recently from airports to 10 mass transit systems, said TSA spokeswoman Ann Davis.
The program began under President Richard Nixon in 1972, following a bomb threat on a passenger jet that year. The jet returned to Kennedy International Airport in New York and was searched by a bomb dog, which found an explosive device 12 minutes before it was set to go off, according to the TSA's Web site. The program now has 80 airports with bomb-sniffing dogs, who are called on several times a day to search suspicious bags and cargo and act as a general deterrent, the site says.
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