PublicTechnology talks to Shaun Hipgrave, head of the Joint Security and Resilience Centre, about the Whitehall unit’s work to solve the security challenges of government, industry – and tennis fans
Many of the 17,500 tennis fans who attended the concluding match of the 2018 ATP Finals event at London’s O2 arena were no doubt shocked to see Alexander Zverev beat the invariably invincible Novak Djokovic.
A few hours earlier, those who travelled to the venue by tube – an estimated 70% of the crowd – may also have been surprised to find out that, simply by attending the event, they were taking part in government trials of new security technology.
The annual tennis tournament was one of the locations that offered for the high footfall screening trials project to be run by the Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC) – a unit of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism that sits within the Home Office.
The goal of the exercise, which was undertaken in partnership with the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure, as well as counterterrorism experts from law enforcement and policymaking, was to test out non-intrusive ways of screening people in crowded public spaces or events.
Head of JSaRC Shaun Hipgrave tells PublicTechnology: “The issue is that, at the one end, we have aviation-type security where you take all your stuff off to go through the security area of airports. And then, at the other end, we’ve got lots of crowded spaces – such as shopping centres, and big leisure venues – where they just have lots of security staff, and it’s a bit random. Some have screening, some make you take coats off, some may wave a wand over you. We were looking for technologies which will retain the high footfall, but where the owner of the venue doesn’t feel that they’re inhibiting their customer.”
The trials, which also took place at the National Gallery, Thorpe Park and Aston Villa Football Club, focused on passive low-millimetre wave imaging technology. The programme tested products put forward by six different technology firms.
“The technology is not dissimilar to the screening you get at the airport, but it is at a distance – 10, 20, 30, or even 40 metres away. It will create a shaded image of you and identify anomalies,” Hipgrave says. “High-threat items – such as explosives, guns, and large knives – will be identified.”
“Shopping centres, and big leisure venues… have lots of security staff, and it’s a bit random. Some have screening, some make you take coats off, some may wave a wand over you. We were looking for technologies which will retain the high footfall, but where the owner of the venue doesn’t feel that they’re inhibiting their customer.”
Signs erected at the trial venues informed visitors that they were taking part in JSaRC-run trials to improve security. Hipgrave says that, for a relatively new organisation – whose profile he would like to raise across both industry and government – the trials represented “an exciting piece of work, because it’s been really visible to the public”.
JSaRC was established in 2016 with the aim of bringing together government, industry, and academia to solve the UK’s security challenges. An initial funding pot of £11m was provided by the Home Office and RISC – an alliance of 15 different industry bodies across the security sector.
The organisation now has 17 full-time civil servants on board, supported by a rolling roster of 10 secondees from the private sector and higher education, who typically each spend a year on board. The cumulative cost to participating firms of providing secondees is about £1m, Hipgrave says.
The JSaRC head himself arrived on secondment from previous employer IBM, before joining government full time in 2017.
The partnership model is beneficial for everyone involved, he tells PublicTechnology.
“All the secondees that have been with us felt really fulfilled. Some companies use it as part of their early starters or grad scheme – what fantastic experience to spend a year in the Home Office as you are developing your skills and your career in security,” Hipgrave says. “Some give us more established project managers. The networks they engage with and create within the Home Office and government departments, and the understanding of how government works, have been really valuable.”
He adds: “We get people who generally have been in the private sector and come with a mindset that is around delivery and pace and pushing things forward… the secondees bring that industry knowledge that sometimes you just can’t have in the civil service.”
Establishment of JSaRC
Initial funding, provided by RISC and the Home Office
Full-time civil servants now employed by the organisation, supplemented by 10 secondees
London and Cambridge
Location of JSaRC offices
Number of tech firms that took part in the high footfall screening trials
The essential purpose of JSaRC is to create a central point of contact in government – for both security suppliers and academia who want to engage with government, and departments who want to explore what solutions could be applied to their security challenges.
“Like many other parts of government, the Home Office and the other security parts of Whitehall has its own way of working,” Hipgrave says. “I work in the Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism. There’s also the Border Force part of the Home Office, there’s the policing part, there’s the Aviation Security part of DfT, there’s the Ministry of Justice and HMPPS.”
He adds: “So, traditionally, industry would be making lots of approaches to lots of different parts of government. And, whilst we don’t want to replace that – because they are the experts and the policy leads in those parts of government – we want to try and corral and make it easier for industry to come to us and for us to: ‘wow, that’s a really good solution; I think it’s something that would work in the prison space’ [for example].”
As part of its work to provide a “matchmaking” service for the security industry and the public sector, every six to eight weeks JSaRC runs workshops at its offices in Cambridge where companies and academics are invited to present ideas or products.
“Quite often we provide them advice on how to engage with government, and which parts of government they should be engaging with,” Hipgrave says. “But I think the larger percentage [of our work] is when the policy leads of different parts of government, or people with security problems, come to us and say: ‘do you think you could get out there and ask industry if they have the capabilities or solutions in this area?’. And that’s how we built our workbook up – by being led by government departments.”
One example of this way of working was a recent enquiry from a policymaker focused on tackling violent crime, who wanted to hear new ideas from the commercial and academic sectors. Following this initial contact, JSaRC set about organising a seminar, which takes place this week and will be attended by representatives of about 120 companies and academic institutions
Shaping the market
The ultimate mission of JSaRC is to support the government and the wider public sector in delivering “increased security for UK citizens”, according to Hipgrave.
But, in addition to this, the organisation can play a valuable role in “shaping the market”, he says. Not least by helping start-ups and SMEs bridge the so-called ‘valley of death’ – the tech industry term for the period of time between creating an innovative product and creating enough demand to ensure it has a commercially viable future.
Another programme of trials – this time run in conjunction with HM Prisons and Probation Service – allowed the companies involved to prove the efficacy of their technology. The trials, which took place at a trio of prisons in the east of England, tested the capabilities of three different ways of proving the identity of visitors: facial recognition; fraud documentation technology; and biometrics.
“The prison service – quite rightly! – were always wondering whether the claims that technology companies make can be verified. And, because we’ve run the trials, we’ve verified them over five weeks, and that’s been really successful. It’s one of our immersive demonstrators at the Security and Policing show, where we’ll be showing those technologies.”
The show – which JSaRC is running for the first time this year – is an annual government-led event attended by senior security professionals across government, national infrastructure, law enforcement, and the emergency services. More than 250 firms will be exhibiting at the event, which takes place in Farnborough from March 5 to 7, and features keynote speeches from senior representatives of organisations including the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police, and HMPPS.
Taking over the running of the annual event was “a big project” for JSaRC, Hipgrave says.
“We will get the message out that there is a place here in the Home Office where we can be a point of contact to develop industry engagement and solve government’s challenges.”
“Visitors can come and see something that’s completely interactive, completely new, and that is talking about the Home Office’s problems in the here and now,” he adds. “Because we have delegates from about 60 countries coming over as well, it is really supporting our international exports.”
When asked how he would like JSaRC’s work to develop over the coming months, Hipgrave says that the goal is simply to expand and deepen ties with security representatives from across the board. This will be helped by a newly launched dedicated JSaRC website – which, unusually for a government entity, has a .org address. Previously, the organisation was served only by a single gov.uk webpage providing cursory information. The website can be found at www.jsarc.org.
He says: “Through our website, through wider stakeholder engagement, through wider private sector engagement and academic engagement, we will get the message out that there is a place here in the Home Office where we can be a point of contact to develop industry engagement and solve government’s challenges.”
Hipgrave adds that, after a 30-year career in the security sector, including stints in the Army, the police, the private sector, he has finally found his “dream job”.
“It’s just a tremendous privilege to be able to service industry and government – all with the aim of increasing security for the UK,” he says. “It makes me hugely proud… and I feel quite a heavy burden of responsibility. But I love it.”