Lee Dover, Consultant, 2020 Vision

Editor's Note: After the tragic events in Manchester this week, this article is a timely reminder of how important it is to keep our learners safe. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by Monday's bombing.

What colleges and training centres must consider under the threat of terrorism

Colleges and training centres throughout the UK must continue to be on alert about the threat of terrorism. This message was recently highlighted by a security threat at Bury College. As reported by the Manchester Evening News, the incident at the Great Manchester college saw the facility being put in lockdown as a precaution before an evacuation took place. Hundreds of staff and students were caught up in the event.

Bury College swiftly released a statement concerning the threat, which read: “Staff at Bury College reacted swiftly today in response to a potential threat. Working closely with exceptional support from the police, the college quickly instigated its well-rehearsed lockdown procedures. A safe evacuation of the college was taken as a precautionary measure.”

The following is a guide for staff at colleges and training centres on what they should consider if a similar security threat was to develop at their establishment:

How to improve security

Staff members should aim to reduce the likelihood of a security threat developing in the first place, by looking into the following techniques to improve security:

  • Set up visitors’ access control systems around all entrances to a college or training centre, so that every individual is checked and identified before they are allowed into the establishment.
  • Clearly define the boundaries of a college or training centre, such as by placing fencing around the grounds or having clear signs that indicates when an individual is about to trespass.
  • Have one main entrance to the college or training centre, which should be visible from the reception area and be the only way for individuals to access the establishment during hours of study. Separate entrances are fine to have around a college or training centre, but only open these when pupils are arriving or leaving the building.
  • Secure all doors and windows around a college or training centre. For this, fit alarms to exit doors so that people can be warned of unauthorised use, as well as apply locks to windows and have strict control about who can gain access to keys for opening them.
  • Set up CCTV systems so that surveillance can still be granted in sections of a college or training centre which aren’t often monitored by staff, as well as so that the entire establishment can be monitored at times when it is sitting empty.

How to recognise a terrorism threat

The National Counter Terrorism Security Office has detailed various procedures to help individuals recognise the potential threat of terrorism. You can view them all in detail via GOV.UK, but the following are particularly important for those working at a college or training centre:

Knowing the threat level

You can find the UK’s most up-to-date threat levels, a measure of the likelihood of a terrorist attack occurring across the country, on the MI5 website.

What to do when encountering a suspicious item

There’s a protocol in place that staff members at colleges or training centres should follow if they come across a suspicious item:

  1. Use the following HOT protocol to confirm if the item exhibits suspicious characteristics
  • Is the item HIDDEN?
  • Is the item OBVIOUSLY suspicious? (Be aware of any batteries, circuit boards, liquids, putty-like substances or wires that are visible.)
  • Is the item TYPICAL of what you would expect to find at the location where it’s been found?
  1. If the HOT protocol has made you more suspicious, the next step is to clear the immediate area. Take these actions to do so:
  • Do not touch the suspicious item.
  • Move people at least 100m away from the suspicious item, starting from the centre and moving out, so that they are at a safe distance.
  • Ensure both yourself and others are kept out of the line of sight of the suspicious item.
  • Avoid positioning yourself or others near glass — this includes skylights and windows.
  • Set up a cordon around the area.
  1. Call 999 to alert emergency services of the suspicious item, as well as inform any relevant member of staff at your establishment. However, avoid using radios within 15 metres of the suspicious item.
  2. Monitor access to the area that’s been cordoned off around the suspicious items, continuing to do so until it has been deemed safe.
  3. Ask eyewitnesses to stay at the scene so that they can communicate to the police about what they’ve seen.

What to do when encountering a suspicious delivery or package

An abundance of mail and other deliveries will be received by colleges and training centres on a daily basis. Therefore, here’s a list of pointers for quickly identifying if a delivered item should raise suspicions:

  • Has the item been delivered unexpectedly? (Such an item been delivered by hand is also a cause for concern)
  • Has the item been delivered in a padded envelope, a Jiffy Bag or another form of bulky package?
  • Is there an additional inner envelope or other contents that is difficult to remove?
  • Has the labelling or sealing been applied so excessively that it encourages opening at a particular end or in a specific way?
  • Is the item oddly shaped or lopsided?
  • Is the envelop flap stuck down completely? (There are slight gaps at the edges of normally gummed envelope flaps)
  • Has the item been marked with phrases such as “To be opened only by…”, “Personal” or “Confidential”?
  • Has the item been addressed to an organisation or a title as opposed to a specific individual?
  • Is the origin of the item unexpected or unusual? (Look at the postmark and the return address where this matter is concerned)
  • Is there no postmark?
  • Is there no return address on the item?
  • Is the return address unable to be verified?
  • Has the address been printed poorly, inaccurately, unevenly or in an unusual manner?
  • Is the writing unfamiliar?
  • Is the style of writing unusual?
  • Are there more stamps on the item than is required for its size and/or weight?
  • Are there any greasy or oily stains which emanate from the item?
  • Are there any odours which emanate from the item?

After working through this checklist, if suspicions are raised further then staff members should follow this emergency response plan:

  1. Do not engage in unnecessary handling and x-raying of the suspicious delivered item — The item should be put down on a cleared flat surface and kept separate from other items so that it can be identified easily. No attempts should be made to move the item, even for the purpose of x-raying it.
  2. Clear the area — The immediate area where the suspicious item is should be cleared immediately, which includes all adjacent rooms including spaces both above and below the room where the suspicious item can be found. Once cleared, ensure no one is able to approach the area until it is safe to do so and make sure that no mobile phones or two-way radios are used within 15 metres of the suspicious item.
  3. Inform the police — During this initial conversation, let the police know if the suspicious item has been opened. Any informants and witnesses to the suspicious item should remain in contact so that they can brief the police once they begin carrying out their investigations.

Lee Dover, Consultant, 2020 Vision

About Lee Dover: Lee is a journalist with an interest in various aspects of security solutions, such as access control systems, both nationally and internationally. He has a BA (Hons) in Magazine Journalism.

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