Safe and sound
9 June 2011
From protecting the Queen to catching laptop thieves, every day over 100 members of the Security Services team are stationed across Imperial to keep staff, students and College guests safe. Reporter spoke to Terry Branch, Head of Security, to find out what it’s like to be responsible for the safety of the College.
How long have you been at the College and what did you do beforehand?
I joined the College 10 years ago as a Security Officer and progressed through the ranks, gradually taking on more responsibilities. Although I hadn’t worked in Security Services before, I’d spent 14 years serving in the Royal Marines, so I was used to working in a challenging environment.
What does it take to be a security officer at Imperial?
It is completely different from being a security guard in a bank or a shop – the role is much more interactive. It’s about being a proactive, approachable, customer-focused member of staff who is available to assist in any kind of situation. When I’m looking to recruit a new security officer, I look for someone who is approachable, uses their initiative, has good social skills and lots of confidence.
What do security officers do on a typical day?
Security officers work 10 to 14-hour shifts across the campuses. They assist students, visitors and staff, in particular the wardens, accommodation teams and building managers, with a variety of issues. These can include lost property, theft, coordinating fire evacuations and responding to alarms raised by residents in the local area.
How important is training for the team?
When I became Head of Security two years ago, I wanted to ensure that my team members were motivated in their roles and confident in their abilities, so I introduced a dedicated training day every month. Team members get the chance to develop a wide range of skills, for example, they attend sessions to learn the best way to deal with conflict and to understand their legal rights when having to intervene physically in a situation. All our officers are trained in first aid and typically deal with a couple of incidents every day, ranging from minor medical ailments to accidents which result in serious injuries.
How are you working with organisations outside Imperial?
Imperial is located in the heart of the South Kensington community, so it’s really important for us to work with local organisations. We work closely with the police and, as a result of our relationship, they are actively involved in Freshers’ Week – meeting students and their parents, and giving talks on personal safety. I’m also the Vice Chairman for the Knightsbridge and Belgravia Safer Neighbourhood team, which helps me keep up-to-date on local crime concerns.
What is the crime rate like for the College?
Crime has dropped steadily over the last five years. This is mainly due to having better technology, such as swipe access controlling entry into more buildings, plus the use of CCTV cameras across the campuses, which helps us to keep an eye on what is going on. Cycle theft is a problem across London but the College has invested in secure cycle facilities and the Union Shop now sells gold standard cycle locks. These initiatives have helped reduce cycle theft by 40 per cent. Our dedicated investigations officer works closely with the police to solve crimes, and advise staff and students on how to avoid becoming a victim by being more security aware.
The College has hosted a range of public figures from prime ministers, heads of state and the royal family. What’s the biggest operation you have been involved in?
When the Queen came in 2007, our role was to coordinate the visit with the police and their search teams, and to ensure the event went ahead without disruptions. It was great to host the visit but, from Security’s perspective, the best feeling was at the end of the visit, knowing all had gone without any hitches!
What are you most proud of in your role?
When team members put their training to good use. For example, when officers chased a suspect down to South Kensington, stopped a bus he had boarded and detained him until police arrived. He had laptops in his possession belonging to Imperial students, so he was charged with theft and their property returned. The training the officers had received gave them the confidence to pursue and arrest the suspect off campus, secure in the knowledge that their actions were within the law.
— Emily Ross, Communications and Development