Campus: CSU San Francisco -- October 26, 2001

SFSU's Bomb-Sniffing Dog Keeps Campus Community Safe

Only explosives detection dog in 23-campus CSU system is often called on for help across state

San Francisco State University's best defense in keeping the campus safe from bombs and suspicious packages comes through a feisty, four-legged friend.

Tobi Jo, a 7-year-old golden retriever and member of SFSU's Department of Public Safety, has been putting his sensitive nose to the test, sniffing out the thousands of letters and packages that arrive at the University each day. His well-trained and powerful nose picks up scent molecules in the air from up to a mile away.

Since Sept. 11 he's made daily sweeps of the mailroom, sniffing hefty boxes filled with letters, advertisements, bills and other mail for faculty members, administrators, staff and students. In addition to his mail scanning duties, he checks any suspicious objects on campus.

Under Tobi's steady work, no suspicious packages, letters or objects have been found. Tobi's trainer, handler and partner is Cpl. Todd Iriyama, a six-year veteran of the department. When Tobi arrived on campus in 1997, Iriyama went through extensive training with the dog in Napa County. During the intense six-week course, Iriyama taught Tobi how to respond to commands and search for such explosives as dynamite, ammonia nitrates and chlorates. The training is ongoing with sessions on a monthly basis.

If Tobi were to find an explosive, he would sniff it out and then sit down, signaling to Iriyama a problem with the package or the area. His good work is rewarded not with food or a treat, but with a rolled up towel that he uses to play tug-of-war with Iriyama. Tobi exercises regularly and eats only dog food to maintain his muscular 68 pounds.

Iriyama is with Tobi nearly 24 hours a day, caring for the dog at his home and feeding, bathing and watching over his partner.

"We even sleep in the same room," Iriyama said laughing. "Tobi is always at my side."

Tobi is the only explosives detection dog in the 23-campus California State University system and is frequently loaned to different sites to sweep an area before a visit from a dignitary. Last month Tobi and Iriyama traveled to CSU Fresno before an event where the Rev. Billy Graham was speaking. In the past, the two have also gone to CSU Sacramento, CSU Chico and San Jose State.

Public Safety decided to add an explosives detection dog to the force about four years ago. Like many universities, SFSU typically receives bomb threats near mid-term and final exams. While officers investigate the threats, the department wanted an added layer of protection, Chief Kim Wible said. A bomb-sniffing dog was the best line of defense.

Another reason for bringing the dog on board was evidence that Theodore Kaczynski, the convicted Unabomber, used SFSU as a return address on one of the mail bombs he sent.

Given the tragic events of Sept. 11 and the recent bioterrorism attacks, the University is responding in various ways to keep the campus community safe:

  • All mail delivered to the campus mailroom is being scanned by an X-ray machine similar to that used at airports. SFSU is the only CSU campus with such equipment. Each piece of mail is scanned through the X-ray machine, which detects substances, solid materials and hard and metal objects. While mail has been scanned through the X-ray machines for years, as part of the recent heightened security efforts, Public Safety officers now operate the scanners. In addition, Public Safety maintains portable X-ray equipment that can be used anywhere on campus.

  • The Department of Human Resources provided information sessions to employees last week about handling mail safely.

  • Additional Public Safety officers regularly patrol campus.

  • The Student Health Service will provide medical advice and information on environmental exposures as requested.

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