Joint endeavours: JSaRC head Shaun Hipgrave on bringing together government, industry, and academia to solve the UK’s security challenges

Written by Sam Trendall on 8 May 2019 in Feature
Feature

In an increasingly complex security environment, working with the private sector to find solutions is more important than ever. Shaun Hipgrave, head of the new Joint Security and Resilience Centre, talks to Sam Trendall about solving security challenges and why, after 30 years, he’s finally found his dream job

Photo: Tennis pulls crowds at the 02 in London PA

Many of the 17,500 tennis fans at the concluding match of the 2018 ATP Finals at London’s O2 Arena were no doubt shocked to see Alexander Zverev beat the seemingly 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 chosen for the High Footfall Screening Trials project run by the Joint Security and Resilience Centre (JSaRC) – a unit of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism that sits in the Home Office.

The goal of the exercise, 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 non-intrusive ways of screening people in crowded public spaces or events.


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“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,” explains head of JSaRC Shaun Hipgrave. “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 customers.”

The trials, which also took place at the National Gallery, Thorpe Park and Aston Villa Football Club, focused on what is known as 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.”

Signs erected at the chosen 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”.

Security central

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 universities and the private sector, who typically each spend a year there. 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, Hipgrave explains.

“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 (left) 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.”

The essential purpose of JSaRC is to create a central point of contact in government – for both security suppliers and academics 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 have their 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.

“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 say, for example: ‘Wow, that’s a really good solution; I think it’s something that would work in the prison space’.”

As part of its work to provide a “matchmaking” service for the security industry and the public sector, JSaRC runs workshops every six to eight weeks in its Cambridge offices where companies and academics are invited to present ideas or products.

“Quite often we provide 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 research sectors. Following this initial contact, JSaRC set about organising a seminar, attended by representatives of about 120 companies and academic institutions, which took place in February this year.

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”, Hipgrave says.

But, in addition to this, he explains, the organisation can play a valuable role in “shaping the market”. 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 drumming up 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,” Hipgrave says.

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.

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.”

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Sam Trendall
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Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology

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