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by msecadm4921

Security advice to young people has to be savvy – and given at the right time, Ben Whittaker, NUS vice-president, told the annual conference of AUCSO. Mark Rowe reports.

Forget any idea of them and us, security and students, security people ordering youths to hush and generally telling them what they can and cannot do. As interesting as what Ben Whittaker told the Association of University Chief Security Officers was his talk afterwards to Professional Security, standing alongside Bernadette Duncan, City University London head of security and business continuity. “There’s been a sea change in the last ten or 15 years,” Bernie Duncan said. Security services now see students as customers. “Also we recognise that parents are the ones that pick up the pieces, if things go wrong. We are trying to make sure that students are looked after.” Ben Whittaker added: “Security and student services are one and the same thing.” He described the job of security and student [welfare] services as ‘to defend he student experience’. Also of interest was that whereas plenty of outside speakers at any conference give their talk and then push off, I spotted Ben Whittaker in the exhibition hall in the afternoon, talking with AUCSO people. <br><br>Speaking to the conference, Ben Whittaker had plenty to say about what best to tell students, and how to do it. If for example you want to advise students to protect their property over the Christmas vacation, don’t send leaflets weeks beforehand. The information will be discarded by the time students are thinking of leaving for the Christmas vac. How do you get young people to think about crime and their own safety, the same way students do think about the recycling and green issues? Nudge people, he suggested. Use Face book, Twitter, and viral campaigns – ‘no more posters’, Ben Whittaker said; because students are bombarded with information. He recognised difficulties; students change every academic year, and heads of security have to keep repeating their advice. How to put across effective messages (against hate crime, for instance)? They should be for students, by students, he suggested: “Because they sell the message better than anybody else.” Go out and listen to students, he urged; and then respond to them. How about a £69 flipcam or video camera left in the middle of your institution, with three questions, and see who records? You might find out some things that you would not know otherwise. Questionnaires are too long and bureaucratic, he added. <br><br>Build a close relationship with your student unions, he said; they have money and are keen to be partners. Don’t be afraid to be innovative, and dynamic. He gave the example of dressing as burglars carrying ‘SWAG’ bags and throwing ‘footprints’ into a student’s insecure room. To laughter from the audience, he did not recommend stealing a television from a room to make the point about security. And how about talking to 15-year-olds, before they arrive at university, rather than 21-year-olds who are about to graduate? As was said from the conference floor, if a security head told students at freshers’ week that one in three of them will be a victim of crime while at uni – a much-used figure, though a few years old – he might be fired. Universities may be careful to protect their brand. In any case, Security may only have seven minutes to speak to the new students, while perhaps 25 other departments have things to say besides. As Ben Whittaker pointed out, students then have too much to take in. Instead, he suggested student ‘ambassadors’ going around, knocking on doors after students have unpacked, to talk with freshers over a cup of tea. Then the ‘ambassador’ can give advice, such as: at 3am if someone is pressing all the buzzers to get entry to a hall of residence, it may not be a student locked out, but an intruder. So don’t open the door. Or: when walking home, you really shouldn’t use that dark alley. It’s more sensible to get a taxi at a marshaled point. You could arrange that the student union will pay for a taxi, even if the student has run out of money. “You will have much more traction in a one to one conversation.” Campaign messages, he made plain, have to be snappy in a style that appeals to students’ sense of humour and understands their psyche. You want students to drink water sometimes besides alcohol? Try a slogan on the back of a toilet door: “Get watered not slaughtered.” Safety may seem a dry subject if you have not been a victim of crime; if you have, it could be too painful to relive. That said, security heads evidently see that some students aren’t good at judging risk, making themselves vulnerable to acquisitive crime, for example maybe leaving their laptop and wallet at a library desk, to find them stolen on their return. Nor might students think to insure or property-mark their goods. <br><br>As for the economy, it’s tough, Ben Whittaker said, and it’s going to get tougher: “Budget cuts are hitting.” Building partnerships are critical. You should understand your business, and your students’ journey and behaviour. “I really want to pledge that we stand side by side. We have to defend each other’s services in a time of cuts.” <br><br>AUCSO’s 2012 conference is in Dublin, at Trinity College. Besides the association’s security officer of the year award, AUCSO is running a certificate of excellence scheme all year. Officers get a certificate, a letter from the chairman and an AUCSO pen, presented locally by their manager. Bernadette Duncan – awarded an MBE for her national work on emergency management – was hosting a Project Griffin event for London universities, colleges, libraries, museums and the NHS’ security and facilities staff on terrorism awareness.

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