South Carolina's Airports Land New TSA Director

July 13--After the horrific terrorist attacks on the U.S. in 2001, Steve Corey followed a patriotic tug and joined the newly formed Transportation Security Administration.

Now, he's the new TSA director for all airports in South Carolina except Hilton Head, which falls under the agency's Savannah jurisdiction.

Based in Charleston, Corey, 60, takes over from Debbie Engel, who is still in the area but now works in TSA legal affairs.

A former military police officer with the Army, Corey worked in logistics with a division of 3M out of San Diego and Minneapolis when he decided to serve his country in another way.

"I didn't think I would stay," the San Diego State business graduate said of his joining the TSA. "It was the uncertainty of the times."

But Corey did. He started in 2002 with a mobile screening force, hopping from airport to airport to transfer screening operations from private operators to federal employees.

His first permanent assignment came in Jacksonville, Fla., where he stayed for 10 years and became assistant federal security director. He left there in 2012 for a two-year stint as TSA director at Jackson-Evers Airport in Jackson, Miss.

But he started looking for another location, one closer to Jacksonville, where his parents live.

The Charleston slot came open, and he landed it.

Few headwinds

Corey doesn't expect any major changes in TSA operations across the Palmetto State, but he said South Carolina is different from Mississippi.

"South Carolina presents some unique challenges," Corey said.

Those include expansions going on at Charleston International and Greenville-Spartanburg airports and the economic opportunities in business, transportation and aviation occurring at airports across the state, he said.

Charleston International, the state's busiest airport, is undergoing a nearly $200 million renovation and expansion, including $10 million coming from upfits by concessionaires. Work should be finished in September 2015.

"We are anxious for the construction to be completed," he said.

The two separate security checkpoints at Charleston International will be consolidated into eight lanes in an area being added on behind the airline ticket counters.

"It will be much more efficient," Corey said. "And it will enhance security."

Gunslingers

He doesn't see any major concerns at any of the state's airports, but one issue on the uptick across the state is the rise of firearms stored in carry-on bags.

"I don't really know why it's happening more, but probably the biggest reason they bring them to security is that they don't check their bags before they come to the airport," he said.

When that happens, a passenger can expect to miss the flight because he or she will be taken into custody while an investigation begins.

As for other unauthorized carry-on items, he's seen them all.

"It's anything and everything you can think of," he said.

Brass knuckles, a small pressurized beer keg, tools such as hammers and a chain saw are some of the more unusual items people have tried to bring on board.

On his desk is a gun cartridge-like device, which is one reason it was confiscated. The other reason is that when it unscrews into three parts, it serves as a storage device for illegal drugs such as marijuana.

"Nothing would surprise me," he said.

Another item showing up more and more is a knife that looks like a credit card. When opened, it butterflies out and can be used as a cutting implement.

"Passengers can either return them to their cars or surrender them to us," Corey said, shying away from the term "confiscated."

Security threats

In the 12 years he's been with the TSA, the biggest change Corey has seen is the level of sophistication in security and training.

"The equipment and methodology are different," he said. "You don't see any hand wands anymore. They are gone."

The machines that showed images of a person practically nude and were thought by many to be an invasion of personal privacy are also history.

"The technology is better now," Corey said. "We are now looking for improvised explosive devices or their components. We are looking for explosives, timing devices or detonators."

To help him find such items and screen millions of passengers flying out of South Carolina's airports every year, 430 TSA agents are on staff across the state. About 120 of them are at Charleston International.

As for the minimum doubling of a security fee that all passengers in the nation will be charged effective next Monday, Corey said he didn't know a lot about it but that a portion of the proceeds will come to the TSA.

The TSA local office is at the SCRA campus on International Boulevard in North Charleston, but that will change by summer's end. The agency will move to Faber Place off Leeds Avenue because the SCRA complex will be demolished to make way for Boeing Co.'s expansion plans.

Corey, too, is in a search to find new digs for himself.

He's been staying in a hotel for a few weeks, so he and wife Brenda, who arrived a couple of weeks after him, can search for a new home.

He's already been on the receiving end of Charleston's hospitality.

After going through security recently, Mount Pleasant resident Mirella Abbo stopped to chat with Corey when she learned he is the state's new TSA director.

"You are going to love Charleston," she told him. "It's an incredibly friendly town. It's a small city, but it has everything a large city has. Welcome to Charleston."

Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.

At a glance

Name: Steve R. Corey

Title: South Carolina federal security director

Age: 60

Family: Wife, Brenda; children and grandchildren

Education: San Diego State University, major in business administration

Experience: 12 years with Transportation Security Administration; 10 years in Jacksonville, Fla., and two years in Jackson, Miss.; Army military police.

Higher fees

Under the current law, the federal "September 11th Security Fee" is $2.50 for each leg of a flight. It tops out at $5 for each one-way trip, and $10 for each round trip.

For flights booked on or after July 21, the fee will jump to $5.60 for each leg of a flight and will have no cap. A layover of more than 4 hours on a domestic flight, or 12 hours for international destinations, will count as a second leg and trigger an additional $5.60 surcharge.

Copyright 2014 - The Post and Courier, Charleston, S.C.

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