National Nuclear Security Administration

Sandia employee dubbed a master at locking down NNSA’s enterprise

August 31, 2016

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Steve Highland, a Sandia National Laboratories security expert, is the only Certified Master Safe Technician in New Mexico.

NNSA’s primary missions include keeping dangerous materials out of the wrong hands while protecting and maintaining the nation’s nuclear deterrent. It’s no surprise, then, that NNSA’s labs and sites employ the best experts available in security.  At NNSA’s Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, those experts include Steve Highland – a longtime professional locksmith.

For more than 20 years, Highland has served as locksmith to the tens of thousands vaults, safes, doors, vehicles, desks, and cabinets on Sandia’s campus.  Now, he works full time as principal technologist at the lab’s Access Delay and Structural Assessment Department, helping develop ways to stop or delay adversaries from gaining access to critical resources. He often “red-teams” security systems, challenging the designs to help engineers identify vulnerabilities and improve effectiveness.

“It’s a challenge every day,” Highland said. “I never have boring days. A lot of guys come and consult with me. I love being involved in the design of physical security systems. That’s a wide realm and open to a lot of creativity. I love working with my team; they are some smart dudes.”

As a career pinnacle achievement, Highland recently earned his “Certified Master Safe Technician” credential, the PhD of safe and lock studies, awarded by the Safe and Vault Technicians Association. Highland is the only person in New Mexico to hold this certification.

As technologist and expert on physical security, Highland points out that while no system is actually impenetrable, delaying access long enough for a response team to foil an attempted breach is the goal and indicator of success for his team. It is through the contributions and knowledge of experts like Highland that NNSA’s nuclear security enterprise keeps U.S. assets safe from unauthorized access and ready to defend against adversaries.

Read more about Highland and his career in security on Sandia’s website and in a recent news article.

When Steve Highland first started working as an apprentice locksmith, he was “busted” by police for trying to “break in” to an empty house. After that incident, he carried around a card above, signed by his boss and notarized.