Security Director for SWFL International to present at next In The Round on Marco Island

Robert Cohen, Federal Security Director for Southwest Florida International Airport, speaks on security to a group of Marco Island Noontime Rotary Club members at Hideaway Beach on Marco Island. Quentin Roux/Staff

Robert Cohen, Federal Security Director for Southwest Florida International Airport, speaks on security to a group of Marco Island Noontime Rotary Club members at Hideaway Beach on Marco Island. Quentin Roux/Staff

— Your shoes, belt, wallet and spare coins have all been removed. Your laptop is placed in its own little plastic bin, while your Ziploc bag of travel sized shampoo and mouthwash chugs along the conveyor belt – on display for everyone around you to see.

And then, those dreaded two words as your carryon slides through the machine: “Bag Check!”

Low and behold, you forgot that the tiny container of yogurt you’d packed as a snack is technically considered a gel.

TSA took your pride, your liberty, and now – perhaps worst of all – your strawberry yogurt.

If you’ve ever wondered if all these precautions are truly necessary, Wednesday’s In The Round community forum at Iberia Bank may be worth attending. The event’s guest speaker is Robert S. Cohen, the Federal Security Director for Southwest Florida International Airport, and the man who oversees the team that oversees your stocking-clad feet.

Cohen, who has been in his current position at Southwest Florida International Airport since 2004, has actually presented at an In The Round lecture before. But because so much has changed since his appearance at the Marco Island Iberia Bank in 2006, event organizer Keith Dameron thought it was time to bring Cohen back.

“I think this presentation will be even more interesting then the first because of all that has happened since October 2006,” insists Dameron, adding, “that was before the shoe bomber and the underwear bomber.”

And it’s true. Since Cohen’s first presentation, TSA regulations have become infinitely more complex. Plus, new body scanning technology is bringing issues (and images) of personal privacy to light.

“I’m not doing this in any way to create a defense for what TSA does,” says Dameron, insisting that instead, “My purpose is to inform people who travel, even if only occasionally, what to expect and what is being done to protect them.”

One of the biggest topics Dameron hopes the forum will address is whether or not the measures are actually making air travel safer. For the most part, Dameron thinks they are, referencing a recent article in the DailyMail Online, which chronicles the 10 weirdest items confiscated at TSA checkpoints last year. Among the objects are knives hidden in hollowed out books, a loaded .380 pistol and snakes hidden in a man’s trousers.

Cohen undoubtedly will have his own list of weird items seized here locally, and there will be plenty of time to ask him about them during the question and answer part of the program, which follows his 40-minute presentation.

And unlike removing your shoes and belt—which is decidedly unpopular—Dameron expects this session to be especially popular. Already, he has 52 of the 75 or so slots filled, and he anticipates more reservations in the coming days.

“One guy who called to reserve his space said, ‘I just wish we could get to a point where we didn’t have to take our shoes off anymore,’ and I said, well, just be glad that after the underwear bomber at least we don’t have to take our underwear off!”

Luckily, for Wednesday’s presentation you’re more than welcome to keep your shoes, belts and underwear on.

If you go

What: Is Airline Travel Becoming More or Less Safe? An In The Round Discussion featuring TSA Director Robert S. Cohen.

When: Wednesday, January 25, 2011. Discussion begins at 6 p.m. with a questions and answer session to follow.

Where: Iberia Bank, 605 Bald Eagle Drive, Marco

Details: For more information or to reserve your space, call (239) 403-5169.

© 2012 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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