KEVIN MURGATROYD looks at how station security can be smartly and sustainably improved by engaging the wider workforce and encouraging cross-team collaboration
Our transport hubs are on high alert. With the threat level for international terrorism in the UK currently at severe, our industry must remain vigilant to make sure passengers and employees are kept safe. As recent terror attacks from around the world have demonstrated, any crowded public space is a potential target.
Stations are becoming increasingly busy. Since the late 1990s, the number of train journeys in the UK has doubled and passenger numbers are reaching record highs. Despite this, stations aren’t getting much bigger which often leaves large crowds of passengers concentrated in hotspots, such as entrances and ticketing areas, where people can easily get lost in the crowd. This makes monitoring for threats at ever busier station concourses increasingly difficult for security personnel.
On top of this, stations are evolving and becoming much more diverse. Like the newly refurbished Birmingham New Street and before it, Kings Cross St Pancras, many stations are becoming destinations in their own right, with cafes, shops and restaurants attracting customers for purposes other than travel. Not only is this shift increasing footfall in our stations, it’s also encouraging people to stay there for longer. While these changes no doubt improve the customer experience and help transport operators to maximise the value they can capture from station assets, they also create more complex environments for security teams to manage.
Naturally, designated security teams are leading the way in keeping passengers safe by adapting their practices to manage these changing environments. However, the wider rail industry and its partners have a part to play too. There are steps we can take to support our security teams and tackle the challenge of safeguarding our stations head on.
Working with partners
To maximise station security, we must adopt a collaborative cross-team approach and take advantage of the breadth of skills within our stations. Maintenance and cleaning employees, for example, have an important role to play in supporting security teams. The nature of their work means that they have an in-depth knowledge of the environments they manage as well as a close understanding of the natural ebb and flow of stations. As a result, they are extremely well placed to notice anything out of the ordinary.
Our industry should be looking to leverage this expertise to help keep passengers safe. There are some simple yet effective techniques which can be easily incorporated into maintenance and cleaning teams’ everyday roles to support this collaborative approach to station security. The HOT protocol, for example, provides a guide to assessing the potential danger posed by an unattended item. The technique helps employees to distinguish between items accidentally left behind and those deliberately planted dependent based on three criteria: whether an object has been hidden; whether it is obviously suspicious; and finally if it is typical of what one would expect to find in that environment. Any items deemed to be a potential threat can then be passed on to the security services.
With two million items of lost property left behind on our railways each year, the task of monitoring for and assessing potentially dangerous objects is no easy feat. The HOT protocol significantly streamlines the process of identifying threats, meaning risks are reported and dealt with efficiently. Teaching wider station teams this relatively straightforward procedure will provide numerous extra pairs of eyes on the ground. In addition to support services teams, there is no reason why those who work in our stations’ shops, restaurants and cafes should not receive the same training. It will ensure that nondangerous items are assessed and discounted at an early stage, preventing unnecessary disruptions to passenger journeys while allowing security teams to focus on dealing with credible threats.
Further support is available through in-depth training programmes, which provide non-security employees with a greater knowledge of counter-terrorism prevention measures. Across the UK, personnel from a wide range of industries are being trained through national police schemes in how to recognise and report suspicious activity and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. With our stations at high risk of such attacks, there are obvious benefits in extending this approach to our industry.
One such initiative is the National Counter Terrorism Security Office’s (NaCTSO) Project Griffin. Launched in 2004 by the City of London Police, Project Griffin trains people who work in busy public spaces such as shopping centres, stadiums and sporting venues to detect and deter terrorist activity. Since then, the project has provided training to around 100,000 people each year. More recently, NaCTSO has allowed businesses to become an accredited partner and take the programme in-house, which is especially appealing to organisations looking to train a large workforce.
Counter-terrorism awareness can be incorporated into employees’ day-to-day schedules, getting the message across without losing the company time and money. We have found it useful to supplement formal training programmes with our own tailored refresher sessions. Taking advantage of the breadth of skills within our workforce, we use our own security teams to train the trainers, which involves security personnel sharing their expertise with those who deliver training so that they in turn can pass the knowledge on to other teams. Formal security briefings are transformed into bitesize chunks that can be presented to teams at the start of their shifts as toolbox talks.
Not only does this approach help to bring efficiencies, it also keeps employees on high alert. Protocols and procedures can be easily forgotten, so incorporating them in to easy-to-digest toolbox talks is a useful way to keep station security high on employees’ agenda. These pre-shift briefings are a good opportunity to remind employees that threats can come from any angle. For example although in recent years the risk of ‘active shooter’ style attacks has grown, this does not mean that suspicious packages are not an issue.
It is not just inside our stations that this model of crossteam collaboration and upskilling can prove useful. Crime on our railways remains an expensive and disruptive issue for transport providers. Graffiti, for example, costs the London Underground network £10 million per year, not to mention the 70,000 hours of employee time taken up to deal with the damage. This swallows up important revenue that could be invested in improving our railways and diverts employees away from their day-to-day responsibilities. To address this issue, we are training our cleaning and maintenance teams to support security personnel and the British Transport Police in their efforts to reduce vandalism. This is a clever use of our employees’ time. Often they are the first people to come across new graffiti so it makes sense for them to be responsible for monitoring their environments.
Every instance of graffiti encountered by our employees is logged in a centralised graffiti database, used by train operators and police to gather intelligence. This can alsobe employed as evidence to recover costs during legal proceedings. As with monitoring for security threats, the level of expertise required to maintain the graffiti database is the result of careful training. Our security teams are sharing their skills and relaying this knowledge to ensure cleaning and maintenance operatives can help to reduce vandalism on our railways too. This is just one example of how the wealth of skills within our workforce can be shared across teams to bring significant benefits. Whether it is to maximise security, reduce crime or improve the customer experience, this collaborative approach can be a powerful tool in tackling some of the most pressing issues within our industry.
Investing in safety
Keeping stations safe should be everyone’s responsibility, from cleaning and maintenance teams to restaurant and retail employees. As the way we use our stations changes, sharing skills and knowledge across teams is critical to keeping them secure.
Training teams in counter-terrorism initiatives and graffiti-monitoring measures means we have extra pairs of eyes to safeguard the station environment. This requires employers to provide the resources needed to update or expand existing programmes. However, the ultimate reward justifies this investment, delivering a safe, comfortable environment for passengers.
Kevin Murgatroyd is transport director at Interserve