Nationwide, there are millions of federal government employees working in thousands of secure buildings. For decades, Calvin Byrd, B.A. (CCJS) ’78, has been instrumental in the development of security programs and standards to keep these public servants safe.
Mr. Byrd is the senior level advisor for physical security at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which regulates commercial nuclear power plants and other uses of nuclear materials through licensing, inspection and the enforcement of its requirements. In that role, he provides critical guidance for all the NRC’s physical security initiatives. From fires and power outages to acts of terrorism and natural disasters, Mr. Byrd is primarily responsible for keeping NRC employees safe. He also focuses on ensuring continued operations in the event of an emergency at the NRC’s Rockville, Md., headquarters, as well as related efforts throughout the national capital region. (At left, Mr. Byrd is pictured with then-President Bill Clinton.)
Both off duty and in his everyday life, Mr. Byrd is constantly aware of his surroundings, noting how his environment could be safer and more secure.
“That vigilant mindset is second nature to me,” he said. “I’m always looking at the big picture, I’m a big thinker. I’m always considering what’s the right balance of security with the goal of creating an open, welcoming atmosphere for employees, visitors and customers. I’m constantly surveying the security environment assessing obvious, as well as somewhat transparent security countermeasures.”
Mr. Byrd also ensures that all NRC employees are trained in what to do in any emergency situation. He prepares employees by coordinating briefings and full-scale drills for a range of possible situations, including fires, power outages, bomb threats, earthquakes, civil disturbance and active shooters. (Mr. Byrd pictured at left prior to leading an active shooter awareness session in July 2014 for all NRC employees, conferring with Commander Elliott Grollman, Homeland Security's Federal Protective Service, and Maurice Witt, an Assistant Chief with the Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service.)
Due to his vast knowledge of security, Mr. Byrd represents NRC on the federal government’s Interagency Security Committee (ISC), which develops security standards and best practices for all non-military federal facilities.
Before the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, there were no government-wide security standards for federal buildings. “Every agency did its own thing,” Mr. Byrd explained. After that tragedy occurred, it became clear that swift and effective action had to be taken. The day after the bombing, President Clinton directed the Department of Justice (DOJ) to assess the vulnerability of federal office buildings in the U.S. and provide him a report in 60 days.
“The Oklahoma City incident was the game changer in security; it was the proverbial wake-up call at the highest level of government," Mr. Byrd said.
Because of his expertise, dedication and forward-thinking leadership, he was selected to serve on an ISC team that worked for several years to update the initial 1995 DOJ report that included the first minimum security standards for non-military Federal facilities. The documents developed by the ISC team were shared with top government leaders and unanimously approved. (At left, Mr. Byrd appears in 2008 with members of the ISC team, pictured left to right: Austin Smith, Executive Director, ISC; Robert Shaw, General Services Administration (GSA); Gwainevere Hess, Homeland Security; Mark Strickland, Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts; Joseph Gerber, Homeland Security; Thomas Wood, GSA; Jeffrey Barnhart, Department of Treasury; Mr. Byrd; Everett Reid Hilliard, Department of Justice and ISC Working Group Chair; Robert Stephan, Department of Homeland Security and ISC Chair.)
“This is major – these documents serve as the foundation for the 2013 ISC Risk Management Process document that outline security standards for all non-military federal facilities that remains effective today. As a result, federal employees are better protected and prepared for security breaches, acts of terrorism, disasters and other potential vulnerabilities,” Mr. Byrd said. “Being asked to work on an ISC team to develop major foundational security documents that influence how all federal agencies conduct security operations, and to have those documents embraced by all ISC member agencies has truly been an honor, blessing and a highlight of my career.”
Mr. Byrd and the other members of the ISC traveled across the country to tour federal facilities and test the draft document to determine security gaps and possible solutions. “We went from Baltimore, to San Diego, to Miami, and then to Oklahoma City,” Mr. Byrd said. “We found that some sections of the draft document worked well, and that some things did not flow so well. We also found potential vulnerabilities at some facilities, but more importantly, we found solutions that could strengthen security operations nationwide.”
Today, Mr. Byrd is constantly reviewing, testing, and tweaking new security systems and related technology and software. Mr. Byrd explained, "In this business, I have to stay up-to-date on the latest security standards, best practices, and technology trends.
“I’m always asking myself, ‘How can this security system be defeated? If I’m the bad guy, how am I going to get in?’ I have to think like the bad guy, and then I have to figure out how to defeat the bad guy. I make sure we have a holistic security plan which considers security in-depth and risk management—that keeps the bad guys out, but lets the good guys in with the least inconvenience,” he said. “I’m also very aware of social engineering—‘Could someone talk their way past our security team?’”
Mr. Byrd's career trajectory is unique in that he has come full circle. After earning a B.A. in law enforcement in 1978, he went to work at NRC as a security specialist. In 1984, he transferred to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where he earned promotions as chief of two security divisions. In 1999, he returned to NRC as chief of the physical security branch, and later was promoted to his current position as NRC’s senior level advisor for physical security.
In early 1993, while serving as chief of a FEMA security division, he was selected to serve six months on a detail to the President's National Performance Review “Reinventing Government” taskforce that was led by former Vice President Al Gore. Mr. Byrd had lead responsibility for assessing and making recommendations relative to the duplication of law enforcement agencies in the Departments of Justice and Treasury. Mr. Byrd said, “The work was exciting and I had the privilege to brief Vice President Gore on the team's findings.” (Pictured at left: Mr. Byrd in a meeting with then-Vice President Gore.)
From “surreal” days in his career including the Oklahoma City bombing to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 on the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon, Mr. Byrd has commiserated with his colleagues about the aftermath of those crisis events. Mr. Byrd knows that, in his line of work, you always have to be prepared. I have to "prepare for the worst and hope for the best. “I do my best to make sure we don’t have bad days. On my watch, we haven’t had a lot of bad days,” he said.
A native Washingtonian, Mr. Byrd went to Eastern High School and credits his family and his church for helping him develop the skills he would need at the University of Maryland and in his career, including comfort with public speaking. Mr. Byrd’s parents, who worked for the Department of Agriculture, were models of hard work and public service, and also taught Mr. Byrd the value of “doing right by everyone,” he said. They also helped guide the path of his education and his career.
Mr. Byrd’s interest in security was developed during his time at UMD. Initially, he wanted to study business, but quickly realized that his elective courses in the Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice were his favorite classes.
“I noticed that I was getting the best grades in my criminology classes—I really enjoyed those classes and I had a keen interest in the subject matter. My parents encouraged me to follow my interest. I decided to major in criminology, and my career has since followed that path,” Mr. Byrd said. “Maryland also helped to make me who I am today. My freshman year was the proverbial wake-up call for me. I learned quickly that I had to follow the syllabus, keep up with the work, and continuously develop my writing and verbal skills. My classes were tough. You had to defend your papers and you had to be confident when you presented yourself. I learned that to really excel and stand out, I had to work harder than everyone else and do far more than is required.”
His hard work paid off and paved the way for his successful career.
“My degree was a powerful tool and door opener. It was essentially my ticket into the federal government,” Mr. Byrd said. Because of his degree, his good grades and his writing and presentation skills, Mr. Byrd was recruited by both the FBI and NRC. He was offered a number of opportunities, but chose to pursue a career at the NRC because he felt an immediate connection to the leadership and saw it as a challenge.
“I wanted to shape things, to help build a security program, and because the NRC was new and its security plans were just being developed, I knew I could make a difference there,” Mr. Byrd said.
Mr. Byrd urges today’s CCJS students to consider their full range of career options. “When I was a student, there was a misconception throughout the student body that criminology majors had to be law enforcement officials,” Mr. Byrd said. “There are so many other opportunities out there, so many career paths, and I was interested in considering all of my options.”
These career options, he says, include physical security, information security, personnel security, technical security, and intelligence analyst, as well as various other forms of security, law enforcement and government service. His additional points of advice for CCJS majors and would-be government employees is relevant to any student: obtain on-the-job training through internships and volunteer work; gain as many computer and technical skills as possible; focus on your writing and speaking skills; seek out mentors and role models; develop interpersonal skills, work harder than everyone else, and always maintain the highest level of integrity in everything you do.
“The ability to interact with anyone, and get along with everyone—those are invaluable skills in any job,” Mr. Byrd said.
While he has traveled extensively and balances a considerable workload as well as family life with his wife and two sons, Mr. Byrd has found time to stay connected with his alma mater. He makes a point to attend DC-area alumni events, including homecoming events and the annual Terps on the Hill gathering at the Rayburn Building. He enjoys sharing his expertise with students and hearing about updates from the University, BSOS and CCJS. And his legacy of Terp pride continues today, as his youngest son is an undergraduate majoring in Sociology.
Reflecting on his time at Maryland, Mr. Byrd said, “Maryland prepared me well to make achievements in my career; the University ‘did right’ by me.” Considering his distinguished career, the national impact of his work and expertise, and his continued support of his alma mater, Mr. Byrd certainly has “done right” by Maryland.