Charlotte Geoghegan

Head of Content, IFSEC and FIREX

Author Bio ▼

Charlotte Geoghegan (nee Wright) is Head of Content for the Protection & Management portfolio, which includes IFSEC and FIREX live events and IFSEC
May 7, 2015

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Exclusive: Safety and Security at The British Museum

How are London’s most iconic buildings protected? What are the biggest challenges in keeping them safe and secure?

New for IFSEC 2015, ‘Protecting London’ is a series of videos and live debates exploring how security, safety, facilities and fire functions operate together in some of the capital’s most fascinating landmarks.

For the first episode we interviewed Maria Anderson, health and safety manager at the British Museum, the UK’s most popular visitor attraction and the first national public museum in the world:

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While representing safety, Maria works hand-in-hand with security and she met the Protecting London team to share the unique requirements of the iconic landmark she’s responsible for.

Describing the museum as ‘very strict on high level security’ Maria tells us all about her ‘legal and moral duty to protect staff and the public’ as well as her equally important ‘responsibility to protect the collection.’

Constructing a brand new exhibition centre

In 2010 the museum undertook one of the largest building redevelopments onsite: the creation of the World Conservation and Exhibition Centre.

This took three and a half years to construct and, as an extension to the existing building, created a lot of security challenges. Maria says the building took years in the planning stage as it needed to fit in with each department’s needs.

Security issues during handover

When asked if any incidents had particularly tested her, the first thing Maria mentions is the staged handover of this new centre. Staff moved in over a two month period, at which time some spaces were still being worked on by contractors.

She explains that it was not as simple as just moving in “there were spaces that were unfinished, so we had to control contractors and operational end-users at the same time.”

Doors needed to be left open for the workers on the site and at the same time, members of the public had to be prevented from gaining access. What’s more, contractors would sometimes prop open doors where they shouldn’t, which added to the security complications.

No surprise then, that this was what Maria describes as ‘the biggest challenge of making this building operational’.

British Museum

The British Museum has to “control contractors and operational end-users at the same time.”

Key facts about the British Museum

  • Founded in 1753, the museum granted free admission to all ‘studious and curious persons’ and the number of people visiting has risen from 5,000 per year in the 18th Century to a staggering 6 million today.
  • The museum is also home to 1,000 staff and over 8 million objects, just 1% of which are on display at any one time.
  • Since opening, the Bloomsbury site has been in a constant state of development and now houses the collection in a range of buildings spanning from the 18th to 21st Century.
  • It includes 194 store rooms and over 50 galleries, as well as research centres and laboratories with high risk technology.
  • The main building is Grade 1 listed and the site measures 75,000m² – the equivalent of 9 football pitches.

Security and fire technology

Embedding 21st century technology to meet the needs of security, fire and safety into the building, parts of which date from the 1850s, is another challenge Maria highlights.

Swipe card technology has been introduced to the museum and they have what she describes as ‘top of the range security.’

Fire safety systems are again top of the range; there’s an alarm and detection system as well as controlled mist in the collection areas.

Communication between teams

Maria goes on to explain the importance of communication during the process, stressing staff were kept engaged and involved throughout; “We asked what they wanted and how the building should be built for their needs. During construction there were open visits. We had visit tours for staff so they could actually see the progress of the construction phase.”

Fire, security, health & safety and facilities working as one

Outside of the recent construction project, Maria explains how the different fire, safety and facilities teams work together under the same directive.

“We share meetings, we share projects. Ultimately we have the same objective of keeping everybody safe, not just secure.”

“This is a great example of where all four disciplines [fire, security, health and safety and facilities] really work together. Through regular meetings and sharing progress we all work to the same objectives.”

Protecting London - British Museum

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ifsecglobal britishmuseum Really proud of my friend. Congratulations mariafanderson #colombianpower