Miami International Airport

MIA gets black Lab Retrievers to help screen passengers

 

A pair of four-legged agents at MIA add a new layer of security for passengers, but you probably shouldn’t pet them.

ashiundu@MiamiHerald.com

The new security team at Miami International Airport has a nose for the job.

They screen passengers on the pre-check line for explosives, and alert TSA agents subtly as soon they detect something suspicious.

On Friday, Transportation Security Administration officials introduced the public to the newest employees – a four-legged pair of black Labrador Retrievers named Lewie and Yoshi.

They were the dogs on duty when TSA officials took visitors on a quick tour.

The dogs took turns. Lewie came first, accompanied by his handler, inspector Shawn Hurley. He would follow passengers, sniffing out their scent and their baggage.

Then came Yoshi. For 30 minutes, he and his handler, inspector Cedric Blevins, followed passenger after passenger.

Each dog would follow someone, turn back and do it again for the next passenger.

Adding the dogs as a new screening layer is the latest effort by federal authorities to streamline security procedures.

Under the normal TSA screening process, passengers waiting to go on board normally queue up to be screened by officers who require them to take off shoes, remove belts and jackets and take laptop computers out of their bags before going through the X-ray machines.

On Friday, at a TSA checkpoint in the north terminal, passengers waiting to be screened at a regular line were chosen at random to get an expedited treatment. Those passengers were able to leave on their shoes and belts, and were allowed to keep laptops in bags. The only visible added screening was a dog following them.

After a few steps, the dog would turn away if everything was normal. If something was amiss, the animal would alert the handler with a change in behavior. What type of behavior change is classified, officials said.

“These dogs are trained to move among crowds of people and actually detect the signature odors that explosives give off as people are moving,” said Mark Hatfield, TSA Federal Security Director. “You just get to see a happy dog on your way there.”

Other dogs scan stationary items, such as unattended luggage or garbage cans, sit when they detect contraband.

Not Lewie and Yoshi, both 4 years old and weighing in at a little more than 50 pounds each. They were trained at the Auburn University Canine Detection Training Center in Oxford, AL, and they were always on the move.

“As humans, we rely on $50,000 or $60,000 pieces of equipment to do what the dogs do with the end of their nose every day,’’ Hatfield said. “They do have a set of skills that we try to replicate with technology.”

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