Editor, IFSEC Global

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James Moore is the Editor of IFSEC Global, the leading resource for security and fire news in the industry. James was previously Editor of Professional Heating & Plumbing Installer magazine.
February 10, 2020

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Education sector

Transforming security on Teesside – a team on a mission

Improving security is a constant challenge for universities, but it is one that Claire Humble and her team at Teesside University have embraced since 2017. We find out how the use of approachable, well-trained staff and the use of technology has had a dramatic impact at the institution.

Claire and her team at Teesside University are on a mission. Since 2017 they’ve been working hard to upgrade their capabilities and modernise the service they deliver – and they’ve achieved impressive results.

ClaireHumble-TeesideUniversity-20Despite the relatively high crime rates affecting the wider Cleveland region (in 2018 the 20,000 incidents logged by the police were above national average) in the last three years they’ve achieved an impressive 19% reduction in crime on their two sites, including a 35% reduction in thefts.

Today, the Middlesbrough main campus and the Darlington campus are largely crime free and feel safe and welcoming.

Which brings us back to that all-important sense of mission.

City centre challenge

The work that Claire’s security team is doing matters more than ever in today’s competitive higher education sector. The continuing growth and success of the university depends on its attractiveness to students, particularly those from overseas. With Teesside’s main campus a relatively open site in the town centre, the university is playing an important role in the ongoing regeneration of Middlesbrough.

“It’s not only as one of the town’s largest employers but also, increasingly, a cultural focus,” says Claire.

The challenges here will be familiar to anyone managing a campus or working in higher education security. While the openness of campus environments is an important quality – it’s part of their appeal – the absence of a hard perimeter brings risks that need to be managed so the effectiveness of the security team is key.

Claire took over as head of campus security following her 28-year career in policing, retiring in 2017 as Superintendent. Right from the start she had a clear sense of what she wanted to achieve. It never works, she says, just to react to events or respond when problems come your way – “that’s called ‘firefighting, it usually goes wrong and it’s not much fun”.

Much better to develop a proactive and preventative strategy that tackles problems head on, which is exactly what Claire did.

Senior level support

Winning the support of Teesside’s executive board was her essential first step. Claire advocated the pivotal role of security and safety in attracting students, and she made a successful business case for the improvements she wanted to introduce.

Her plan was to bring the security service fully in-house, to recruit a more diverse team and to give all her officers new CPD professional development opportunities.

Having won support for her strategy, Claire set about creating four new team leader positions and encouraging three officers through MSc apprenticeship degrees with university funding.

TeesideSecurity-CriticalArc-20

Not surprisingly perhaps, she places high importance on upskilling.

“All our officers are now SIA trained up to supervisor level, and all now undertake mental health first aid training.”

Claire is also encouraging volunteering opportunities, and at the same time is keen to strengthen collaboration with the local police – both objectives furthered when five students became police special constables recently. And Claire herself has gained certification as a Safeguarding Lead, equipping her to develop specialist provision for vulnerable children and adults.

This all reflects the team’s new focus. Claire doesn’t want them to be seen as remote enforcers of rules (she is aware that some students from overseas may have good reasons to distrust uniformed authority figures) but as approachable, friendly professionals whose job is to look out for the wellbeing and safety of every student and member of staff.

Imaginative thinking

The Teesside team has been energised with this positive customer-service mission, and it has led to some imaginative thinking and new initiatives being introduced.

For example, international students are now offered a free UK SIM before they travel, making it easy for them to use their phones as soon as they land in the UK. This has reduced feelings of uncertainty during what for some students will be their first solo trip abroad, and their first time away from home.

Claire also argued for the adoption of the latest technology, including upgraded CCTV, body worn cameras and more secure card access to all buildings across the campus. And she introduced secure storage areas for bikes, tackling what had been a recurring problem with theft, one that was having a negative impact on those affected, and on perceptions about crime.

Central to Claire’s vision has been the introduction of the SafeZone service, from CriticalArc.

The technology, which over the last five years has been adopted widely by campuses in the UK and internationally, works by letting students and staff request help directly from security control, via their phones.


Find out why CrticialArc’s Safezone system won a 2019 Security & Fire Excellence Award


Because Teesside’s security controllers can see the precise locations of checked-in users, their situational awareness capability with SafeZone has been transformed. They can now direct faster and more appropriate responses to help requests, coordinating officers to ensure that the best responder is tasked to attend.

“Since the system was adopted our incident response times have averaged 50% faster,” says Claire. “We are now confident that we can assess situations more accurately and respond more quickly in any emergency.”

The technology also allows the on-duty control room team to respond to non-emergency requests for assistance and send out notifications and advice to specific users and user groups in geo-fenced locations. It doesn’t just work on the university’s two campuses; it can be extended to protect students travelling or working anywhere there’s a mobile or Wi-Fi signal.

Community enabler

At Teesside, record numbers of students and staff have engaged with technology, responding to an active programme of promotions and outreach by Claire and her team.

The vision they have responded so positively to is that anyone checking in and using the SafeZone service isn’t just safer themselves but is helping to protect those around them. The idea that this technology is not so much a ‘top down’ security tool but a community enabler has really worked, says Claire. She tasked her officers with communicating this positive message and it resonated, as shown by the record 4000-plus users who had taken to using the service by the end of the last academic year.

“We’ve developed more efficient patrol patterns using the heatmapping data provided by the system,” says Claire.  “And overall we’ve improved day to day engagement between officers and students, which really makes a difference to our campus community.”

And despite this being a relatively small university security team, under Claire’s leadership they are making a significant impact.

Through a combination of a clear mission and upgraded technology, the Teesside Safeguarding Team has become much better at what they do. And as a result, they have cut crime, improved safety and built a more welcoming environment for everyone.

Why should you attend IFSEC International?

8–10 September 2020, ExCeL London

If thousands of products and solutions provided by hundreds of leading security suppliers doesn’t tempt you, why not consider:

  • The full programme of seminars and presentations from industry thought leaders?
  • The live on-stand demonstrations of the most innovative products?
  • Thousands of fellow professionals and ample spaces for networking?
  • The chance to expand your business and grow your network?
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