Realising that his security team was becoming involved in matters irrelevant to its role, Gavin Ford implemented a strategy which allows the team to focus on the job in hand
28 May 2004
When everyone has gone home for the day and the final alarm has been set, my night security team starts work. Their role is to look after university property outside of normal working hours and they frequently undertake patrols of our academic buildings to ensure everything is ok.
Despite having the title of night security officer, the role is not just about deterring crime. Much of their time is spent dealing with incidences in halls of residence. They provide the frontline response to noise complaints, fire alarm activations, disturbances, acts of vandalism . . . The list goes on and on.
On many occasions - probably most to be honest - they have to deal with people who are in no sober state. Sometimes this can be quite amusing but at other times it can be quite scary. Trying to intervene between a group of irate people in order to prevent a mini riot - I exaggerate slightly - can be daunting, especially as you don't know how people might react to the interference. My security officers do not go in heavy handed. They prefer to diffuse a situation by taking a calm but authoritative approach, rather than using tactics which could make matters worse.
I am conscious that an increasing amount of our security team's time is being spent on matters that are not, strictly speaking, a threat to university property. If we allow this to continue, we are in danger of losing focus on the other important roles they provide across the university.
That is not to say that student welfare is not important. Of course it is. But we need to recognise at what point it is appropriate for security to hand over to a residential adviser, or other form of welfare support, thus enabling the security team to get back to its core role.
Following discussions with colleagues in our residential services and student services departments, we have agreed a draft proposal. We intend to set up an out-of-hours helpline, to be located near to the security office. The operator will take essential details from the caller and will then contact the appropriate team to assist. If the matter is related to student welfare, the operator will be able to advise or counsel a person over the telephone until a residential adviser can make direct personal contact. The operator will have access to information that could assist with a call. For example a student's medical history, details of next of kin, course leader, contact details etc.
Duty personnel should be able to deal with the majority of incidences, but situations may arise when it is necessary to escalate the matter. We therefore need to ensure that adequate on call support is available.
Currently, if a problem occurs with any of our buildings, out-of-hours, the duty site manager, (DSM), will be called. The DSM has access to a list of approved contractors and so can easily arrange for any necessary repairs to be made. The duty residential manager has access to available accommodation within both the university and the local community, in order to be able to resolve any accommodation difficulties that may arise.
The student services manager, as well as the helpline operator, will have access to student information and will be trained in specific welfare skills such as counselling. They will also liaise with the emergency services, next of kin and others as necessary. If a matter cannot be resolved by the duty staff or on-call managers, then a more senior member of the university will be alerted.
It is not just universities which need to think about the level of support they provide during the night and at weekends. With more people now adopting flexible working patterns, many offices are occupied during these times.
You may feel content that a security officer is protecting your premises, but who is looking after the security officer and other staff working out of hours?
Gavin Ford is facilities manager at the University of Brighton