Retail safety & security | Urbexing, the power of hello

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Posted by: Gareth Griffiths, Security & Resilience Manager at The Crown Estate | Last modified on 21/10/2019


Guest post contributed by Gareth Griffiths, Security & Resilience Manager at The Crown Estate reflecting on his key takeaways from Revo's 2019 Safety & Security Conference.


Any presentation that starts with such name drops like the Human Fly, the French Spiderman and Harry Potter will be well worth listening to – and it was.


Revo's annual Safety & Security Conference got under way at Interserve’s Head Office in Birmingham with a timely update on Retail Business Crime from the National Business Crime Centre (NBCC). Perhaps the most important being the police perspective on facial recognition CCTV. The upshot being that there is still work to be done around improving technology and public confidence before it’s accepted.


How can retail respond to urbexing?


Then to the much anticipated session on ‘Urban Explorers’ delivered by Stuart Wortley from Eversheds Sutherland LLP. Urban Exploring or ‘Urbex’ can be traced back to 1900, when an undergraduate at Cambridge University scaled onto the university’s rooftops at night and published a series of photographs entitled Rooftops of Cambridge. Other notable ‘Urbex’ milestones include trespass of the New York subway system when it opened in 1904. And the Human Fly’s scaling of the World Trade Centre in 1977, for which he received a $1.10c fine – that’s 1 cent for each of the one hundred and ten floors he climbed. Urban Explorer activity generally remained under the radar until the advent of social media, at which time things literally took off.


Some Urban Explorers have benefited from lucrative advertising through social media. Footage of the trespass of the Cabot Circus Mall in Bristol in 2007 was viewed nine million times. Some trespasses, especially by Alain Robert, aka the French Spiderman, have had as many as 93 million hits. YouTube has demonetised at least three urban explorers and they no longer receive payment for posts. This development is welcome, but hasn’t stopped one well known urban explorer from setting up their own streaming channel. However, demanding a monthly fee of £3 makes it less likely to succeed given that other streaming channels are free.


So, how does the security industry respond to urbexing? It’s not just about individuals scaling the Shard, or trespassing onto the Harry Potter film set at night. There’s also the anti-social behaviour of individuals racing go-karts and motorcycles around shopping centres. Or the unfathomable craze of remaining in Ikea until out of hours and then plunging onto mattresses from the ceiling, all for the sake of raising social media profiles.


There are two paths to go down. The criminal route is clear. There is an abundance of legislation available to the authorities and security industry. Criminal offences urban explorers are likely to commit include:

  • criminal damage,
  • aggravated trespass,
  • theft,
  • public order,
  • and trespass onto protected sites and the railways.


Civil remedies are equally available and, arguably, more powerful. Injunctions are key here. Most shopping centres are private property and wide ranging injunctions obtained through civil courts can restrict persistently disruptive urban explorers from entering all space owned by landlords. Any breach of the injunction would be in contempt of court and could lead to imprisonment. This is powerful legislation and well worth considering.

Download Revo’s Guidance Note on Urban Explorers (available to Revo members).


The power of hello - suicide awareness and prevention in retail


The next presentation was delivered by Mike Pearce, Landsec Group Physical Security & Protection lead and his colleague, Marc Myers, Landsec Rental Business Manager, and focused on ‘Vulnerable People – Suicide Awareness and Prevention’.


A sobering subject, but incredibly relevant, not only in today’s society, but also to the retail sector. We all have diverse portfolios. Some of us have retail destinations covering multiple levels, others are sprawling sites, whilst an increasing number are mixed use – retail, leisure, food or a burgeoning night time economy. At The Crown Estate, we have our flagship Rushden Lakes, which is a multi-use site immediately adjacent to a large body of water, which also forms part of the destination offer.


It’s not just heights that pose a risk to vulnerable people, other areas include dark corners, toilets or even water. Some vulnerable people feel the need for privacy to commit suicide. These high risk areas need mitigating against, usually via a risk assessment and there are many control measures to consider. For example:

  • more frequent checks of toilets,
  • visits to dark areas,
  • CCTV control room tasking,
  • and a review of staff training, especially around communication.


There is also the ‘power of hello’. I happen to be a huge advocate of this simple message. It’s arguably the most effective tool available to every security industry professional. It can be used against a terrorist or criminal engaged in hostile reconnaissance to let them know they’ve been spotted, to communicate with customers to provide reassurance or, as in this case, as the starting point to build up a rapport with a vulnerable person. It doesn’t cost anything, yet can save lives – it’s as simple and as powerful as that.


The session covered a case study around a vulnerable person who was deterred from attempting suicide in a multi-story car park by a member of the public who had noticed them in a distressed state and acting erratically near a balcony, but at the same time had seen advertisements for Samaritans in the car park. They were able to engage with the vulnerable person, which deterred them from jumping and ultimately saved their life. The signage was key in this case. Please see here a recent study on responding to a suicide attempt in a shopping centre.


Not to forget the traumatic effect this issue has on colleagues who are called upon to deal with a suicide or vulnerable person. They are invariably the first responders and the effect it has on them can be devastating and long lasting. It’s vitally important that Employee Assistance Programmes are in place to support colleagues and their families. Download Revo's comprehensive guidance on suicide awareness and prevention for retail here.


The rest of the day was equally informative, with a CT update from NaCTSO, an overview of CPNI’s CT Physical Security Programme, Communications to Improve Security and a presentation from the National CBRN Centre on Corrosive Substance Incidents. For all the assets from Security Conference, please see here.


The day was superbly facilitated by Ian Pugh, Group Head of Security for Intu and I’m already looking forward to next year’s conference.


Also, just to mention that Revo has published excellent guidelines on the subjects I have covered. I really do believe they’re ground breaking so please take the time to read them and make them available to colleagues.


Finally, if there’s one thing I took away from the day, it’s the ‘power of hello.’