News Archive

Training Standards

by msecadm4921

SOE Academy is a new company offering anti-terrorism and security training. In our January print edition, we heard from the chief executive.

Nikki Heath, a psychologist, did work with bomb disposal staff and for a number of Government agencies. She identified what she calls a chasm where the Government leaves off – and outsources – and the private sector picks up. Then there is the question of standards – does the buyer of a security service or training know what they are getting? Nikki aims to set standards, arguing that no other organisation in the UK has yet adopted an all-embracing approach to counter terrorism and security training.

Terror, day to day overlap

She sees an enormous overlap between day to day security and anti-terror. A security officer is not in place only to stop shoplifting, or prevent unauthorised entry of people or things; officers are monitoring their environment for anything unusual. Once, when there was an incident – whether a fire or a bomb scare – Security knew what to do: evacuate. But there may be multiple threats, inside or out; Nikki gives the Bali and Madrid train bombs as examples. Once an officer realises that there is a decision to be made about a threat – and such a threat is not necessarily an obvious ‘bang’ any more – what is the officer to decide on? Stop people entering the building? Encourage them to go out? The implications could be huge; and security staff at the front end have such decisions to make, before the ‘blue lights’ arrive.

About awareness

To what extent is anti-terror work and training about awareness? Nikki replies that an officer needs to understand how to piece things together, to make a picture, to decide where is the tipping point. Put another way, what things are out of place or disconnected, that add up to an ‘event’? She points out that in a commercial building there is a cost if a false alarm is called. There may be pressure on Security from line managers not to call a false alarm; and yet there is the pressure on Security to make sure buildings are protected. As Nikki adds, “It’s quite a dilemma,” and she suggests education of staff at all levels to appreciate what decision-making is involved in such cases.

Soft targets

With the exception of the Twin Towers, terrorists in the age of 9-11 have tended to go for ‘soft’ targets such as hotels, nightclubs, and railway stations. Managing an incident is different, she suggests, in a Canary Wharf-style office and in a central London landmark like a museum. An office has employees, informed (or they should be) of emergency procedures. And they speak English. At a museum or other tourist venue, those to be evacuated may not understand much English.

Not only the capital

Not that Nikki is of the opinion that anti-terrorism training is only for the capital. “No, it’s for anybody,” she says, “because – it’s already happening – insurers are starting to say to companies, if you don’t train your staff appropriately, and don’t implement the right sort of training, we are not going to insure you, or we are going to stick a big premium on you. This is true of everybody.”


The training to be offered by the academy is, she says, a mix of class-room-based and the practical, scenario-based; courses can be offered on your site, or in-country. Nikki stresses the practical side, for example that her instructors should be enthusiastic and current, even down to anecdotes that they use to illustrate their training. Also on the practical side, she points out that under pressure security staff may tend to panic: “They are human beings. Most of their work is very routine. Live events probably happen once in a blue moon. But they have to remain diligent.” In an incident, security people have to manage themselves, and others, as they go from the extreme routine to a state of disbelief – ‘this can’t be happening’ – to suspended belief and suddenly there is an event, bearing in mind that there may have been many false alarms.

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