Creating a resilient security operation – The Francis Crick Institute
We met with the Security Operations Manager at the Francis Crick Institute, Sarah Watts, Security Manager of the Year at the 2018 Security and Fire Excellence Awards, to discuss how collaboration helps create a resilient security operation.
The Francis Crick Institute is a biomedical research facility focusing on human health and disease. They research why disease develops and look for new ways to treat illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.
The Crick moved into its state-of-the-art building in King’s Cross in central London in 2016 and is the biggest biomedical research facility under a single roof in Europe. The building takes up one million square feet and is as deep as it is tall, with four levels underground.
Creating a resilient organisation – being open about their work
To avoid any misunderstanding about their work, the Crick makes great efforts to communicate with the local community and the wider world. In fact, the design of the building is intended to encourage collaboration. There is a public gallery to explain their research in layman’s terms and in the last year alone, around 1,400 Camden school children had lessons in the Crick’s purpose-built teaching lab.
The role of the Security Operations Manager
Working with the Security leadership at the Francis Crick Institute, Sarah Watts from Wilson James is responsible for developing and delivering the strategic security plan. Four Duty Security Managers (DSMs) report directly to her, plus the Security Systems Manager.
In total, there are twenty-eight people in the security function. This includes control room operators, security officers, and welcome officers (the front of house officers).
Sarah’s approach to her role mirrors the Crick approach and this means collaboration. “Getting everyone involved is really important, particularly the duty managers.”
“I have a very open relationship with the team. I aim to give them guidance and empowerment. I want them to have confidence to make their own decisions.”
A further key component of their approach to security is that their team should be personable and approachable. The Welcome Officers are very well known in the Crick – they are the first people that everyone sees. “They know our staff and regular visitors and if someone different is coming in or acting differently, they can spot it.”
For the size of this building, the security team is relatively lean, but is supported with advanced security. “We have fantastic systems, such as access control and CCTV and we are always upgrading and looking for new ways to support our security team, such as our recent introduction of bodycams.”
Given the extensive use of technology, training is paramount. “We must give people the ability and knowledge to do their jobs.” At the Crick, “We have the investment, support and understanding of our role and how important it is.”
A long-term commitment to the Wilson James security team by the Crick is demonstrated by the fact that all Duty Security Managers are currently undertaking the Certified Security Management Professional (CSMP) qualification.
The security function prioritises communication to the organisation. They are currently making videos explaining the security role and how everyone can help. Additionally, security is part of the induction for new starters and the team take part in staff exhibitions.
Creating a flagship security operation
The security team are carefully selected; Sarah says, “They are all driven, loyal, want to learn and progress. They relish new opportunities.”
She went on to say, “I don’t worry at all at weekends. I know they know what to do and when it’s time to escalate. I am not checking my emails all the time. I know they will call me if they need to.”
On a more pragmatic level, they try to recruit locally where they can, so that their staff can quickly travel in if needed at short notice. Sarah also line manages the logistics function with seven staff. All of these personnel are cross-trained in security and provide an additional resource should an incident occur.
The security team organise regular exercises and rehearsals for different scenarios, including marauding attacks or chemical spills. They also organise evacuations and the first aid response.
Sarah works closely with other key locations in the area: “We are back-up locations for each other and have regular meetings and information sharing.” They also keep in close liaison with the Metropolitan Police, the British Transport Police and the Safer Streets team.
Personal traits for resilience
Sarah Watts has over ten years’ experience working in operational security, across a wide range of environments, including the MOD, CNI, London 2012, G8 Summits and the Facebook headquarters. She also brings extensive experience of organised protests. She acknowledges that she has learnt from exceptional colleagues – “I have worked with some really knowledgeable people and have learnt a great deal from them” – and also that having mentors is a key component of her progress.
As a senior security manager with high levels of responsibility, what does she think are the personal traits that enable her to achieve and maintain her own personal resilience?
“I am a perfectionist, I don’t like failure and am driven to do it right and properly. I meet deadlines. I am highly organised both inside and outside work and have excellent time management skills.” She also noted the importance of prioritising her workload, delegation and maintaining a work life balance: “You need to make quite clear lines between work time and home time. You need quality time, where your head is not thinking about work.”
The security operation at the Crick Institute with Sarah at its helm looks in very good shape to take on the challenges it faces to maintain the resilience of this important organisation.
Our thanks to the late David Clark for enabling this interview with Sarah and all the support he showed to us over the years.
Editor, City Security magazine.