As the Association of University Chief Security Officers (AUCSO) approaches its 30th conference in 2014, we think that the 2013 exhibition at Durham University will go down as one of the highlights of the three decades.   The conference undoubtedly provided a wealth of opportunities to learn industry-specific knowledge and share best practices, whilst attendees could develop useful connections for the future.

The three day conference culminated with AUCSO’s annual Security Officer of the Year awards, at the spectacular Durham Castle.  Congratulations to Ken Colin and Andy Newton, Security Officers at Durham University, who were recognised for their excellence and professionalism in a potentially dangerous situation (read more in Professional Security’s article.)

In the Ken Wade Lecture Theatre at Durham University, security managers at AUCSO learnt how to use social media effectively from Claire Croft, Media Manager at the university.  She emphasised the importance of using social media such as Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook to facilitate a two-way dialogue between security at the university and students or other members of the community.

Claire demonstrated the power of social media by telling us about three year old Lily, who wrote to the supermarket Sainsbury’s because her tiger bread looked more like a giraffe.  The letter went viral on social media, and Sainsbury’s responded by trialling a name change to ‘giraffe bread’.  A very entertaining example of how organisations can use social media to really listen to their customers!

Gary Dedden, Head of Protection Services from Coventry University stepped up to tell us about the best-practice methods he has introduced at the university control room.  Before implementing the new strategy, Gary described an unproductive work culture where resistance to change, isolation and complacency were rife.

Although Gary described the current situation as ‘a work in progress’, the team certainly has a huge amount of progress to speak of!  After introducing a Training and Quality manager, security officers at Coventry University have completed nearly 5,500 hours of training over the last 10 months.  Security services are now promoted on an almost weekly basis, with campaigns ran by officers on aspects such as ‘Safer nights out’ and Cycle Watch.  “Being a security officer is now a career path”, Gary concluded.

Having travelled from across the pond, Anne Glavin, IACLEA President and Chief of Police at California State University, spoke about how universities are protected in the USA.  California State University has a professional police force operating from their state-of-the-art communication centre.  (A very different situation from 1958, Anne told us, where security guards received a call for service using a steam whistle on a boiler.)

Universities in the America are facing a number of potential security challenges, such as terrorism, mass shootings, state regulation, natural disasters and lack of finance – universities in the UK can empathise with the latter, especially.  Anne told us about the importance of spotting red flags when it comes to the mental health and wellbeing of students, describing a success story from California where a potential mass murder was prevented due to spotting the early signs of violence.

Thanks to all the speakers at AUCSO 2013 for some very informative presentations!  AUCSO is the Association for Security Professionals working in Universities, Colleges and Institutions of Higher and Further Education in the UK and Europe.  In its 29th year, this long-standing and highly esteemed association provides a vital forum for members to exchange knowledge, information and best practice of security management within the education sector.

Visit AUCSO’s website for information on how to become a member, or find out why Bernadette Duncan, Chief Operating Officer, thought this year’s conference was so special in our interview.