Security at Westminster and in Constituency Offices

As you’d like to hope, Parliament has about the best security and emergency planning of any place to work in the country.  This Guide can’t tell you everything (for security reasons of course!) but can point security-cleared staff in the right direction if you’d like more information on the procedures in place to keep our workplace safe.

There are well developed mechanisms to deal with all kinds of events, not only terrorist attacks, but incidents such as floods and fires of varying seriousness.  The main objective of these contingency plans is to ensure safety and security, and business continuity plans also exist to ensure that Parliament can continue to sit even if it’s not possible to do so in the Chambers.  It’s also very important that proceedings continue to be broadcast so that the public can see business carrying on as usual.

Topics:

  1. Threat Levels
  2. What to do in the event of:
    Losing your pass;
    Suspect packages;
    Seeing something/someone suspicious;
    Receiving a bomb threat.
  3. Contingency Planning and Business Continuity 
  4. Personal Safety
  5. Communication
  6. A Note on Security in Constituency Offices
  7. Harassment or threats from constituents
  8. And finally….
  9. Useful links

1. Threat Levels

National Terrorism Threat Levels – decided by MI5 and the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre

  • Low – an attack is unlikely
  • Moderate – an attack is possible, but not likely
  • Substantial – an attack is a strong possibility
  • Severe – an attack is highly likely
  • Critical – an attack is expected imminently (used after 2001 attacks on the US, 2005 London bombings and the attempted car bombings in London and at Glasgow airport in June and July 2007).

The annunciators will tell you what the current threat level is, as will the Intranet

Response Levels here in Parliament

  • Normal – Routine protective security measures appropriate to the Parliamentary Estate
  • Heightened – additional and sustainable protective security measures reflecting the broad nature of the threat to the Parliamentary Estate combined with specific vulnerabilities and judgements on acceptable risk
  • Exceptional – Maximum protective security measures to meet specific threats and to minimise vulnerability and risk

2. What to do in the event of …..

Losing your pass – immediately report this to the Pass Office, who will cancel it straight away to ensure it can’t be used by anyone else. The Pass Office will issue you a new pass.

While we’re on the subject of passes, always wear your pass in the Parliamentary precincts but take it off as soon as you leave the Estate and put it somewhere safe where it can’t be seen for the journey home.

Also, avoid new interns working on visitors’ passes – they must be security cleared before they start.

Suspect packages – all packages are scanned on their way into the Estate, but all staff who are required to open mail in the course of their work should bear in mind the possibility of receiving dangerous items or substances.  For example, in 2005, packages were detected addressed to Ministers in their Commons offices which turned out to contain a mixture of sugar and weed killer. Look out for:

  • grease marks on the envelope or wrapping
  • an unusual odour
  • visible wiring or tin foil
  • if it feels very heavy for its size
  • delivered by hand or from an unknown source, or posted from an unusual place
  • excessive wrapping
  • too many stamps for the weight of the package

In the event of receiving a suspicious package or letter:

  • do not attempt to open it, bend it, squeeze it or tamper with it in any way
  • do not place it in anything (including water) or cover it
  • put it down gently on a dry, flat surface and walk away from it
  • evacuate the immediate room or area and call security on x3333

Seeing something/someone suspicious – immediately contact security on x3333

Receiving a bomb threat

  • Do not put the handset down or cut off the conversation.
  • If possible, try and alert someone else to alert Security Control while you stay on the line.
  • Obtain as much information from the caller as you can and try and keep them on the line. For example, pretend it’s a bad line and ask the caller to speak up.
  • On page 5 of the telephone directory there is a form for you to complete as you talk to try and obtain useful information – if you can’t get to the form, try and remember the message and ask the following about the bomb threat – Where is it?  What time will it go off?  What does it look like?  What kind of bomb is it?  Who are you and why are you doing this?
  • Once you’ve got information about the time and place, try to get as much detail about the caller as you can.

3. Contingency Planning and Business Continuity

There are plans in place to deal with all kinds of events, not just terrorist attacks but incidents such as floods and fires of varying seriousness.  The main objective of these contingency plans is to ensure safety and security.  Rehearsals for MPs, for example what to do in the event of a chemical attack in the Commons Chamber, take place every so often and you should encourage your MP to attend!

Business continuity plans are an even bigger job and are vital to ensure that Parliament can continue to sit even if it’s not possible to do so in the Chambers. There are temporary locations to which Parliament would reconvene if the Palace were to be unsafe, where facilities such as the Table Office and Vote Office could be set up.

It’s also very important that proceedings continue to be broadcast so that the public can see business carrying on as usual.

4. Personal Safety

The latest version of the Members’ Personal Safety Leaflet is now available on the intranet.  This is not just for Members; it’s vital that their staff read it as well. W4MP can’t emphasise strongly enough the importance of your reading this and taking appropriate action.

This 7-page leaflet (direct link to the PDF here) provides detailed information for Members on personal safety and that of family and staff. It covers:

  • Running a safe surgery
  • Obtaining additional physical security advice
  • Financial support for security measures
  • Getting Support from the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC) – see section 7, below
  • Members’ Home Security
  • Suspicious Post and Packages
  • IT Security Matters

The Members’ Security Support Service in the Parliamentary Security Department is available to provide support and advice on personal security, social media security and security measures in constituency offices. You can contact them on x2244 or at safe@parliament.uk.

5. Communication

In the event of an emergency, alerts will be shown on the annunciators, a prolonged division will ring and the voice-over system will give advice.  MPs will be paged, and email will be used for updates but not for immediate instructions.

6. A Note on Security in Constituency Offices

The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) can provide financial support for certain security measures at your constituency office and your home or second property where the need for this arises from your parliamentary work.

Section 5 of the IPSA Guidance for MPs’ Business Costs and Expenses gives details of the security measures available to Members.

This might cover, for example

  • Minor building works to the office/surgery venue
  • Purchase, lease, installation, monitoring and/or maintenance of security equipment for use in the office/surgery – e.g. alarm systems, shutters, CCTV, personal alarms for staff

In the meantime, a useful measure can be for staff to have an ‘office code’ for a potentially dangerous or disruptive situation. A constituency office I worked in has a code for calling the police in the event of a violent visitor – the Secretary would call to the caseworker in the back room, “could you get the Blue File please?!”

The Members’ Security Support Service can assist with the process of arranging security assessments and getting recommended measures installed in constituency offices. Contact them about starting the process, or to discuss any issues you’re experiencing with getting measures installed.

[Editor’s note: There is more information available relating to this section on the intranet but it will need amending following the decisions by IPSA in March 2010: http://intranet.parliament.uk/finances/allowances/security.]

7. Harassment and Threats from Constituents

If you are being harassed by constituents the first thing to understand is that you are not alone.  Every MP’s office – and this has greatest significance for constituency office staff – suffers harassment from time to time.  We don’t mean the ‘normal’ day to day pressure of work; what we are talking about is threatening behaviour either by phone or by email or in person.

Don’t hesitate to seek the advice of your local Police on security measures.  It’s best to do this BEFORE any trouble starts so you are prepared when it does.

W4MP has a couple of guides with information you may find helpful and these are here:

http://www.w4mp.org/library/guides/researchguides/your-mp-basic-info/members-and-constituency-etiquette-vital-guide/, and
http://www.w4mp.org/library/guides/2010-guide-to-working-for-an-mp-for-new-staff/how-to-survive-your-first-ten-days-in-the-constituency-office/.  This one is a bit out of date but still very useful.
If you are still concerned, your first port of call is Laura Blake in the Serjeant at Arms Office on x3030.  She will advise on whether you need help from the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC).  Read this next section NOW so you know what support is available.  Although a lot of the information is aimed at Members, it is entirely appropriate for their staff too.  Here it is:

INAPPROPRIATE COMMUNICATIONS OR HARASSMENT

It is part of the role of a Member of Parliament to deal with constituents’ problems, both in writing and face-to-face.  Members attract the attention of a range of people, including some with persistent grievances or strange personal causes and some of whom are mentally ill.  Most such individuals cause no problems and are unlikely to constitute more than a nuisance.  However, Members are occasionally troubled by more threatening or intrusive attentions from people which cause anxiety or concern.  In some cases, this amounts to persistent harassment.

The Fixated Threat Assessment Centre (FTAC) was established to assist with these issues.  It is a joint police-NHS unit which specialises in the assessment and management of people who engage in inappropriate or intrusive contacts towards public figures.  It offers specialist assistance, intervention and support to Members, in collaboration with the Serjeant-at-Arms and the Palace of Westminster police.

GETTING SUPPORT FROM THE FTAC

The FTAC will consider cases where intrusive behaviour is causing particular concern or distress or is perceived as harassing or threatening.  Potential cases for FTAC should be discussed with the Serjeant at Arms.

There is also a very helpful leaflet on Personal Safety which is available on the Parliamentary intranet.  It is written for Members but, again, it is for Staff as well.  If you don’t have access to the intranet (you should by the way!) then Laura in the Serjeant at Arms office is happy to send you a copy.  She did send a mail out to all Constituency Office Managers in July 2013 which included a hard copy of the leaflet.  So, if you haven’t seen it, check in your office first.

Laura adds: “We encourage Constituency Offices to maintain a good relationship with their Local Police as they can often provide them with security advice that is tailored to their needs, taking into account any local threats. Indeed this is often my first question when people make contact with me.”

8. And finally ….

If you’d like more information on what the Contingency and Business Continuity Plans are, contact the Serjeant at Arms who is happy to give talks to staff groups.

Please remember that security is a matter for all of us.  If you see someone or something suspicious, contact the police or security staff.  Better a well intentioned mistake than ignoring something potentially disastrous.

Make sure you get a House of Commons Emergency Card – you can get one from the Pass Office.  It shows the Emergency Information Telephone Number which, in the event of an emergency, will issue a recorded message of advice which will be constantly updated as the situation changes.  There is also a website which will be activated in the case of emergency, to which you can log in for advice and updates.  General emergency advice and procedures can be found here: https://intranet.parliament.uk/access-buildings/evacuation-emergencies/emergencies/

In the event of an emergency, DO NOT report it on social media – you could endanger others by doing so.

Last, but not least, the security staff are here to ensure our safety and so please be nice and polite to them, especially at times of heightened security measures when getting in and out of the buildings can take a bit longer.

9. Useful links:

This note has been prepared with the assistance and approval of the Parliamentary Security Department.