Friday, October 30, 2020

In The Round Series Takes a Look Inside the TSA


TSA Federal Security Director Barbara B. Powell explains ingenious ways explosives have been found smuggled onto airlines.

TSA Federal Security Director Barbara B. Powell explains ingenious ways explosives have been found smuggled onto airlines.

Over the last several years, Marco Islanders have been presented a number of what were called “In the Round” presentations on subjects of interest, such as health care, taxes, consumer fraud, and local community issues. The presentations were sponsored by Iberia Bank and were the brainchild of branch manager, Keith Dameron.

Dameron moved on to assume responsibility for the bank’s business development, until recently, when he announced his retirement from his hectic schedule with the bank. After leaving Iberia Bank, responsibilities were left in the capable hands of Laura Schneider, who continued the bank’s community outreach programs as the new branch manager.

Keith Dameron and Laura Schneider share a light moment.

Keith Dameron and Laura Schneider share a light moment.

When Iberia Bank held its first “In the Round” program for 2018, everyone was pleased to see Keith Dameron in attendance. Dameron still utilizes an office in Iberia Bank as he handles other volunteer activities.

The presentation was made by Federal Security Director Barbara B. Powell, who heads the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) in Southwest Florida. The Director’s responsibilities extend to both the Southwest Florida International Airport and the Punta Gorda Airport. Both those airports have regularly scheduled passenger air service. Powell was joined by Security Officer Shella Laurent.

Former commercial airline pilot Russ Colombo and his wife Linda listen with interest.

Former commercial airline pilot Russ Colombo and his wife Linda listen with interest.

Powell had previously worked for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), and in 2001 was stationed in New York City when the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers came down after terrorists hijacked passenger planes and flew them into these two major landmarks. On that same day, as we all remember, terrorists hijacked two other passenger planes; one that was crashed into the Pentagon, and the other, in a western Pennsylvania field after a thwarted attempt to crash in Washington, D.C. Those attacks resulted in the deaths of approximately 3,000 passengers, crew members, first responders, and building occupants.

Security Officer Shella Laurent joined Director Powell for the presentation. Photos by Steve Stefanides

Security Officer Shella Laurent joined Director Powell for the presentation. Photos by Steve Stefanides

Just prior to the attacks, Powell had committed to another job with a private law firm. But following the events of that day, and after being at her new job for just a short time, she decided to join the newly constituted TSA Federal Agency.

Powell has held a number of important responsibilities within the agency. She explained that since 9/11 the new agency oversees all aspects of protecting and securing everything that moves within the nation. This includes the most visible, such as airports and the passengers that fly on commercial airlines.

Much of the presentation dealt with the “Whys” of screening, with Powell giving a detailed discussion on efforts to bring down airliners since the 9/11 terrorist attacks 17 years ago. Her props allowed attendees to see just how ingenious some terrorists have been, which included attempts at shoe-bombing and underwear explosives. Also revealed were foiled plans to use false bottom containers to hold explosive liquids, and the use of computers, cellphone and tablet bombs (which require a special screen for detection).

The crowd was stunned to hear that Southwest Regional Airport handled approximately 8.8 million commercial passengers in 2017 and is one of the top 50 airports in the United States. Another 1,293,337 commercial passengers utilized the Punta Gorda Airport in 2017.

Security Officer Shella Laurent gave an emotional presentation on how important she considers her responsibilities, which allow passengers to expect a safe and uneventful traveling experience. She was a high school student when the 9/11 attacks took place, and she could barely hold back her emotions discussing the events of that day and recalling the media reports.

Director Powell has approximately 300 officers and support staff that help to manage the two airports under her control. She had nothing but praise for their dedication to the safety of the traveling public.

In addition to human officers, Powell has one canine unit, a veteran of the Afghanistan/Middle East conflict. The highly trained dog has received the Medal of Honor for his service detecting contraband and explosives, and now protects airport passengers in Fort Myers.

The popular “In the Round” series of lectures will continue through the season at the local Iberia Bank branch at 605 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco Island. For more information, call 239- 393-2400.

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