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December 15, 2021


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University of Glasgow – How its award-winning security team are tackling diversity, hate crime and gender-based violence

IFSEC Global catches up with Claire Lowe, Security Operations Manager at the University of Glasgow, and Gary Stephen, Head of Security at the University of Glasgow, to discuss Claire’s recent Security Manager of the Year Award win at this year’s Security and Fire Excellence Awards. 

Claire Lowe, Security Operations Manager, University of Glasgow

IFSEC Global (IG): Congratulations on the award win Claire! Was it a surprise and how did it feel?

Claire Lowe: It took a few moments to sink in. I was just so happy to have been shortlisted and invited to attend such a prestigious event.

As part of the University of Glasgow Security Management Team, we have worked hard to promote recognition of the exceptional work carried out by our security officers. Winning the award feels like I’ve showcased that success and teamwork across the wider security industry.

It will reinforce to our staff that it is possible to achieve career progression. We’ve been recognised for the specialist, high standards of services we deliver in the higher education sector.

The University of Glasgow always encourages us to celebrate success. The Award will undoubtedly enhance the department’s reputation internally and add gravitas to the image and professionalism of the security department.

IG: What do you believe have been your biggest achievements this year in your role?

Claire: I’m particularly proud of leading and mentoring my team to focus on tackling diversity, hate crime, and gender-based violence and increasing our efforts to reduce crime levels.

As a result, we have pushed overarching figures down by 15% over the last recordable year. This has included a 55% reduction in bicycle theft, a 25% fall in theft overall, and a 70% decrease in assaults.

I’m passionate about leading a programme to improve mental health support and taking on the role of escalation manager for students in crisis, which proved essential during the pandemic. At every stage, our team maintained that focus, ensuring the wellbeing of students and staff who were still on campus during lockdowns.

Over the last year, I’ve continued to drive the adoption of SafeZone technology from CriticalArc, ensuring we’re getting the most out of its multiple functions – including lone worker safety, emergency call, user location pinpointing, and targeted and mass communications. As a result, we’ve achieved a 50% faster response time to alarms.

SafeZone has also enabled me to enhance team patrol patterns, with 25% improved coverage of designated patrol areas, more regular interactions between officers, students, and staff, and enhanced community relations and feedback.

This success and type of work have demonstrated to wider stakeholders the value of the security department to the University as a whole. As a result, this year, I was selected as one of just 14 staff members to serve on the University of Glasgow Shadow Board, which is the first of its kind in the higher education sector. It means I’m representing the views and experiences of the security department, providing new perspectives and insights that can be applied to the problems faced by senior leadership teams, giving input on major strategic issues facing the University.

IG: Are there any bespoke solutions to security that the University of Glasgow has implemented in the past 12-24 months?

Gary Stephen, Head of Security, University of Glasgow

Gary Stephen: Everyone travelling overseas or overnight on University of Glasgow business now complies with updated travel risk requirements, registering via a redesigned web portal, and has to download the SafeZone app. With continual monitoring of newsfeeds, the team alerts travellers to any developing emergency; officers can pinpoint the exact location of each registered traveller globally and maintain direct two-way communications to assist when needed.

In the last few months, we’ve also adopted online training from Nuology, which is a game-changer. The company offers a wide range of security, safety, mental health, and first aid inactive training courses, all Highfield Accredited. It’s proving to be far more flexible than classroom training because we’re using fewer management hours, and it allows staff to complete modules at a time that works best for them, ensuring there’s no impact on resources.

This year, my role expanded to include a digital strategy for security and safety to increase situational awareness by eliminating siloed systems and technology stacks. The goal is to streamline workflows and digitise processes to relieve officers of manual and repetitive tasks and ensure they continue to be allocated to more rewarding work that engages students and staff.

The first stage is a new purpose-built network operations centre (NOC) that includes a Salto access control upgrade across 330 buildings. It features an integrated visitor management system with new car park barriers, ANPR, and improved lighting. The next phase will be to integrate our CCTV system, and intruder and fire detection into Salto, so control room staff can efficiently manage all alarms and events from a single platform.

IG: What defines a good security team, specifically in an educational setting?

Gary: I believe you need to implement a strategic plan that the officers can buy into. A plan that is clear and the officers can easily understand, so we’re working as one cohesive team toward the same goals and objectives that deliver broader stakeholder value to the University.

We also take a top to bottom holistic approach to the services we deliver for staff and students, including their safety and security. That means I make sure our officers train in first aid and suicide intervention; that way, they can support staff and students with mental health. It’s also about making sure the team understands students and staff’s backgrounds and cultures and respecting that.

IG: What do you foresee as the major security threats and challenges to education institutions in the next 2-3 years?

Gary: Cyber security is a major concern for all universities, particularly in the West. Last year we saw a sharp rise in high profile ransomware attacks both here in the UK and the US that caused significant operational disruption. It’s now imperative that heads of physical security departments work more closely with their counterparts in IT to understand and mitigate cyber-attacks.

Few people in the UK can forget the severely low temperatures and snow in the winter of 2018, which was dubbed the Beast from the East.  It disrupted the entire country, but Scotland was hit particularly hard with ten days of continuous heavy snow, causing substantial disruption.

Today we’re equipped with technology like SafeZone, meaning we’re better prepared to respond, but these types of climate change-driven extreme weather events, including flooding, are top of our risk register.

Students’ mental health is key to the success of any university, particularly when it comes to retention. Working with industry bodies like the Association of Chief Security Officers (AUCSO), we will continue to share best practices. By collaborating with training companies like Nuology, we will ensure we continue to give students and staff the support they need to help them thrive.

Self-initiated terrorist threats are serious and ongoing for universities across the UK, which was demonstrated when the threat level was raised from substantial to severe in November.

This means emergency planning, enhanced situational awareness, and rapid incident response are critical, especially for universities with students and staff at facilities spread across cities.

And we’re still working against the backdrop of COVID-19, with tougher restrictions already being mandated before we head into the Christmas break.  And while we continue to adapt our operations to meet compliance and maintain COVID countermeasures, we’re expecting pandemics to become more frequent than once in a 100-year event.

Check out the full list of this year’s winners at November’s Security & Fire Excellence Awards, here! 

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