Scott Starkey: Keep the Water Flowing
A Security 500 Thought Leader Profile
“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water” – Benjamin Franklin. Since the 6th century BC when the Assyrians poisoned the wells of their enemies, water has been a major military target, and still today, water supplies are a very desirable target for an enemy. “Water is the most precious resource in the world. You can live without food for a while, you can live without electricity, you can live without transportation, you can live without internet (despite what my kids say), but you cannot live without clean water. And that’s what makes my position so challenging,” says Scott Starkey, Security Manager for Birmingham Water Works.
“If a utility’s assets are compromised, then thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people will be substantially affected. Water, power and natural gas are life’s necessities, and the outstanding security professionals in this sector understand that immense responsibility,” he says. “Our goal is for our customers to take for granted that every time they turn on a faucet, exceptionally clean water will flow. Furthermore, not only are we protecting the water supply, we also have the responsibility to protect our employees, customers and visitors.”
Starkey began his career as an engineer, designing fully integrated, multimillion dollar physical security projects. “It was enjoyable to watch ideas and designs, that were dancing around in my head, being constructed and created in real life,” he says. “Then I lost my mind, went to law school and became an attorney. I steered my practice to primarily focus on negligent security. It was a natural fit because I knew the security regulations and standards. However, the passion for what I did for a living just wasn’t there. So, I went back to my engineering background, using my knowledge from the law side to better design and implement security measures. The Security Manager of one of my clients told me that he was retiring and that he believed, with my unique background in law and engineering, that I would be a great fit for his replacement. So, I transitioned to my current role.”
As security manager, Starkey is not only in charge of securing the water supply, but also securing a payment center, workplace violence mitigation, investigations, emergency response, management of the security operations center and perimeter detection systems and mentoring and training new employees on security awareness. He has an 11-member department, with 100 contract security officers and 200 off-duty deputies.
Starkey has C-suite support, but, when he first stepped into the role, getting employees to understand and respect security’s role was a bit tougher. Often times, employees of any organization see the Security Department as a “pseudo” police force that is watching them, Starkey shares, “So, understandably with that viewpoint, there was a distrust factor of the security department. Therefore, it became my first order of business to move the Security Department away from that perception. We have pushed the notion that security is everyone’s business, and everyone is a part of the security team.”
Starkey says the C-suite and the Board of Directors have been his best allies in promoting security. “They have the foresight and understanding that securing the world’s most critical resource must be a top priority. Moreover, they have been extraordinary in their efforts to help push the corporate security mission.”
For example, when it came time to design a new payment center, his C-suite and Board were supportive of a customer-friendly center that also had a fully-integrated security design that implements the proper balance of marrying security technology with security personnel. “Whenever I visit the Payment Center, I encounter many customers that express their appreciation for the strong, yet inviting, security measures to ensure customer safety,” he says. “These customers also express their appreciation for our organization’s commitment to security at the water plants.”
He has strong relationships with his staff and with peers. “Personally, I think that a good security professional cannot achieve their security mission alone,” he says. “Furthermore, I think it is imperative to reach out to every department within your organization to gain insight to their knowledge and expertise of their department and their viewpoints. At my organization, you will find employees that are some of the most dedicated people you will ever run across. They understand the importance of our security mission.”
Because of the talented people in the organization, the Birmingham Water Works Board has been named one of the Top five Water Systems for clean water in the U.S., by Forbes magazine.
In his spare time, Starkey spends time with his three kids and his wife. “When I come home, that’s when my hard job starts,” he says. “When it comes to my kids, I have to be a security manager, counselor, nurse, motivational speaker, the referee and the disciplinarian. If you have ever watched the movie ‘Jurassic World,’ I can definitely relate to the scene where Chris Pratt is in the middle of three velociraptors, except he had it much easier than I do!”
Annual Revenue: Confidential
Security Budget: Confidential
• Active Shooter
• Insider Threat
• Terrorism/ Lone Wolf