Spending countless hours walking around campus is what every student tries to avoid doing, but for security guards this is exactly what their jobs entail. Recently, UFV changed their security provider and with the change in contract the best guards from the previous provider were offered positions at the new company, allowing them to stay on at UFV. Virpal and Heath (we’ve omitted all last names in this article for the sake of privacy) were two guards that stayed despite the change.
Now, the toughest part about writing about security is that most of the info I’d like to know is confidential. How do you talk about privacy publicly without compromising it? It turns out, the best way to keep things secure is to simply keep them private. Nathan, the “captain” so to speak, of the security team at UFV allowed me to shadow him, Heath and Virpal for a few hours one soggy November evening and ask as many questions I could while he answered all the ones he was permitted to.
“I need to speak in enough generalities that nothing will be interesting,” he said with a slight grin and a hint of sarcasm when I asked him to outline the most crucial part of the job when I met him in the temporary security office in D104.
“The most important thing for us is to know what’s going on,” he said. “After hours we are first aid, we’re security, we’re facilities, we’re more or less the only kind of campus management that’s on site.”
When all the students and staff go home, security is still around dealing with any and all situations that might arise.
The guards use what is called a “redundant communication system” in order to make sure that whatever knowledge needs to be communicated to the team on campus is sent to multiple places, ensuring that information reaches its destination even if the power or phone lines go out. A central information system is used by all of the guards that appears on their phones and computers.
Each of the guards carry a phone that is linked into the main security database. When they start their shifts they read through all the relevant notices and then acknowledge to the system that they have read it. This enables everyone on patrol to see who is caught up with current conditions.
Between part- and full-time guards at UFV, there are around 24 guards that are on staff. As Securiguard is a private firm on contract with UFV and is also one of the largest security service providers in the region, they also have the ability to respond with a large number of other security staff in the event of a catastrophic event. I found this comforting in light of the fact school campuses have a history of violent and complicated incidents: to know that UFV has the ability to call in reinforcements to handle large scale situations is a relief.
“One of the reasons people contract out security, it’s not to be cheap, you want there to be a bit of a line. We get treated well, we have relationships with everybody but there needs to be a line between us. Theoretically, we may need to enforce campus policies on the people that are making them,” Nathan told me as we talked about the contract with UFV. “One of the reasons that you go to a contractor is it’s easy to maintain that line.”
Another benefit of having an outside firm is hourly check-ins. Virpal was around while Nathan and I were chatting, and when she is on shift she’s responsible for calling the Securiguard head office in Vancouver to update them on the state of things at UFV as is their policy.
As we were discussing contact with head office, a call came in. Mandatory privacy around the call itself ensued, but I was allowed to tag along with Virpal as she went off to deal with it.
A professor had locked themselves out of their office.
“Does this happen often?” I asked.
She just smiled at me and gave me a knowing look, this time I was pretty sure I knew the reason for not answering was not due to privacy reasons.
Virpal has been at UFV for two years and has been in every single room on campus. I thought about my own explorations of campus and acknowledge I’ve probably only been into 25 per cent of the rooms. As we headed back from the locked-out prof’s office it struck me that the guards must do plenty of walking.
“For me, it’s average 25-30 km,” said Virpal when I asked. “That’s why I bought a fitbit. I just want to see how much I walked. It depends on the shift too. If you get a first aid call or something then you are not walking that much.”
We arrived back at the temporary security office and Nathan joined us as we continued on around into B building. You may know that the office and first aid room has long been in the side entrance to B building on the corner behind the cafeteria. It has been undergoing renovations for the past while with a projected finish date of February 2017. Many times over the past four years at UFV I have walked past the doorway of the office and seen the guards eating their lunches through the doorway and felt weird about interrupting.
Nathan noted how students as well as faculty who come to ask for help from security in that small closed-in office would often open with “Sorry for bothering you, but …” This renovation will change that. With windows and a reception-style desk, the days of interrupting lunches or not being sure if you should approach are soon to be over.
“Mike always talks about how he wants people running to us not from us and I think that our office makes a big difference,” Nathan commented regarding Mike Twolan, the manager of the security team. “We are literally stuck in a corner with no windows, so people feel less comfortable coming over, they feel like they’re bothering us, they feel like we’re just trying to hide in there. Whereas putting us behind a window makes us a little more welcoming.”
By this point we had meandered past the office, through the library, and were responding to a call nearby to remove the bollards from the entrance to the roadway between the SUB and the Envision Athletic Centre. Students were setting up an event in one of the gymnasiums and needed to back the delivery truck right up to the door.
We met up with Heath near the SUB and I watched as they pulled out the poles and ushered the U-Haul in. Heath has been at UFV for nearly five years, making him and Virpal the two longest-running, most UFV-knowledgeable guards on campus.
“Wanna go on Safari with us?” Nathan asked Heath.
“No, you go ahead.”
What on Earth is ‘Safari?’” I asked, confused by the jargon and general mystery.
No answers — I simply assumed that Nathan preferred a show-not-tell teaching method in this instance. We made our way towards the back of campus and crossed the parking lot behind the SUB. Proceeding into the clearing that borders the farmer’s fields behind campus Nathan suddenly turned right, off into the woods.
“This is Safari,” he said as we wandered down the stunning tree-wrapped path through the woods. I had no idea this was here.
“When the weather is nicer, we’ll run into students on the grass back here and then I think biology classes come back here,” Nathan said. “They are allowed to, but we want to come out here and make sure everything is still safe. It’s a very nice spot to camp out.”
I sensed that he may have been referring to events that could occur given the factors of a large homeless population of Abbotsford, and how excellent this secluded this area would be to camp in.
When we returned from Safari I noted the blue security pole behind C building. Nathan had told me earlier of how the Security Operations Centre (SOC) was based out of Chilliwack, basically the nerve centre of all security operations across all campuses. All calls to security are fed through this centre which is staffed 24 / 7 and then the operators there contact the guards on each campus relevant to the call. All calls to the centre are recorded and filed away for future reference.
“We have those blue towers there in case you don’t have a phone. You can call us from that phone that directs to the same system,” said Virpal in reference to the SOC.
“That goes straight to the op center and they can see you,” Nathan added as I noted the camera embedded into the centre of the pole.
As we rounded out our lap of campus I had a final question for both Nathan and Virpal: “In all of the reams of tasks that you have to do, what is your most rewarding and most loved part of the job?”
“It’s a bit dorky, but being a person that when somebody needs help they ask me. And the odd time that something happens, everyone else is running away from something and we’re running towards it,” said Nathan sheepishly.
“When we are helping people and then they say thank you, that’s my favourite part, when they appreciate whatever we are doing here,” Virpal chimed in.
“We’re here to help. We basically just wander around looking for ways to help people,” followed Nathan. “The most important thing is that people know that we’re here to help them with whatever they need: help finding a place, they’re not feeling well, they have a concern for their safety or security, they saw something suspicious, any of those things. There’s not really anything ever that we’re doing that’s more important than that, so they’re never bothering us, they’re never a hassle. The whole reason that we’re here is to help people who need help.”