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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Las Vegas TSA Canine Handler Recognized for Exceptional Performance and Leadership

Koa has implemented daily schedules that maximize the use of canines in screening operations and reduced “down time” for canine teams during daily work assignments.

A canine handler for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) who works at Harry Reid International Airport (LAS) in Las Vegas has been named 2022 National Canine Handler of the Year. Koa Purugganan was recognized last week during the agency’s annual honorary awards celebration, which was held at Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Virginia.

Koa can be seen working regularly at LAS with 6-year-old German Shorthaired Pointer Bimbo-Boom, affectionately nicknamed “Bubba.” Koa has been a canine handler since 2019.

TSA has more than 400 canine handlers across the country who work alongside explosive detection dogs who are trained to work in busy transportation environments. Together, the handlers and dogs are a visible and effective added layer of security within the nation’s transportation system.

“We are thrilled that Koa has been recognized for the outstanding job he along with his four-legged partner Bubba do for the airport community. Koa’s commitment and leadership have made our canine operation at LAS second to none,” said TSA Federal Security Director for Nevada Karen Burke. “Koa is a team player who proactively seeks ways to improve the effectiveness of the canine program while also taking time to mentor other canine handlers to help them improve in the job they do. He and Bubba are exceptional members of our team and are deserving of this award.”

Koa has distinguished himself as a lead trainer for the local canine teams, developing multiple scenarios to test the proficiency of the dogs and handlers in a variety of situations and locations. He has also implemented daily schedules that maximize the use of canines in screening operations and reduced “down time” for canine teams during daily work assignments.

TSA canines and handlers are most often seen at airports working in the security checkpoint, assisting with the efficiency and effectiveness of TSA’s screening operations. They are also trained to work in mass transit, commuter rail, maritime passenger ferry environments and in other busy venues supporting security operations for marquis events.

These canines are able to conduct a real-time threat assessment of travelers going through the security checkpoint. If a dog alerts its handler to the presence of explosive odor, TSA follows an established procedure to resolve the alarm.

Koa joined TSA in 2014 as a TSA officer (TSO), was later promoted to Lead TSO before being named Supervisory TSO at Kona International Airport on the Island of Hawaii. Koa transitioned to the role of canine handler and began working at LAS. Together, Koa and Bubba supported security operations at the 2022 NFL Draft in Las Vegas and have participated in Reno 911 Training. Bubba is an energetic dog who loves to come to work. When he is at home with Koa, he enjoys running around in the backyard. His favorite reward toy is anything that squeaks.

This is the not the first time the canine program at LAS has been recognized nationally. In August 2021, TSA announced that Alona, then a four-year-old Golden Retriever and explosives detection canine was the winner of the TSA “Cutest Canine” contest. Alona and her handler Vanessa continue to work at LAS.

TSA at LAS is consistently one of the busiest airport checkpoints in the country, screening more than 23 million departing passengers in 2022. 

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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