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ESOs at Hinkley Point C

In our July to September print issue we featured our visit to Hinkley Point C (HPC), the first nuclear power station to be built in the UK in a generation, as the guest of Frank Cannon, power firm EDF Energy’s Site Security Manager. G4S has the multi-million guarding contract; here’s an update from their side.

Pictured, the HPC works site, north Somerset, July. Photographer: Jason Alden.

In late July 2019, at the construction site of the first new nuclear power station in a generation, Hinkley Point C, a member of the workforce suffered a sudden heart attack. In a public place, when someone suffers a severe medical episode, a friend or passer-by does what they can before contacting emergency services, who immediately rush to treat them. In the case of a highly-secured, 430-acre construction site on which a nuclear power station is being built on the south west coast of England, things are more complicated.

“This isn’t the same as a heart attack in public,” Alistair McBride, G4S’s director in charge of security on the site, said. “It’s a lot more than a phone call.”

The 50-year-old man’s heart attack triggered responses from on-site ambulance, fire, site duty manager and security. Within four minutes, a medic was assessing him and a decision taken to call 999. They then met the Somerset ambulance outside the site, briefed them, and escorted them through the mass of cranes, heavy equipment, and construction. The man is on track to make a full recovery, in part due to the G4S Enhanced Security Officers.

While G4S has experience handling major events – such as the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup and the British Summer Time music festival at London’s Hyde Park, for example – managing critical national infrastructure requires particular skills. On a nationally significant project like EDF Energy’s Hinkley Point C – which has an evolving perimeter and will see up to 5600 workers on site at its peak – posting guards along the fence is not enough, or even a practical option.

Noah Price, Head of Solutions Development at G4S, said: “Enhanced Security Officers are an absolute game changer.” He helped develop the officers’ training course. “Their training is second to none. The leadership, the community spirit … they’re treated as a proper partner. In this day and age, it’s about realising when this standard is necessary.”

In Alistair McBride’s view, G4S’s Enhanced Security Officers (ESOs) are some of the most well-trained and well-equipped around. They are put through a course that spans three months, during which time they are exposed to all the areas and elements of a site the size of a small town. They are taught the language to use over radio, real time reporting, conflict management, how to manage a situation with protesters, and more.

“It’s a course specific to this site,” Andy Hines, G4S Security Delivery Manager and a former special forces soldier, said. “We teach them more police awareness in case there is an incident, like how to section off the area and help preserve the evidence. We don’t want a security officer who stands there all day, we want an officer who is proactively communicating and reacting.”

The approach has paid off. In an industry that has a typical annual staff turnover of 30 per cent, Hinkley Point’s team of about 200 has a turnover rate of two per cent (markedly low by contract guarding standards), and those who become ESOs don’t stop learning. Each year, each of the four teams of officers complete an off-site refresher course over two days that boosts their Incident Management, Physical Intervention, and Trespass and Protest Scenarios skills. They leave training with a level three City & Guilds qualification, as well as accreditation in emergency first aid and physical intervention.

“We knew it worked after we ran our first course and, on the officers’ first shift the next day, there was a suspicious vehicle,” Alistair said. “There was a security officer shouting an ‘A to H’ description – a military tool to describe everything from Age to Height – to describe the driver. At dusk, this guy was shouting this out, and his only experience was the ESO course. The client and I were sitting in the office saying, ‘well, that worked’.”

Frank Cannon is EDF Energy’s Site Security Manager for Hinkley Point C, in charge of G4S’s security contract. With 37 years’ experience in the military and private security, he works closely with Alistair McBride and his team. They speak daily.

“Probably hourly,” he said. “If you took an ESO from Hinkley Point C and put them at a supermarket, they would be the wrong person. The unique selling point is how appropriate the training is for the working environment. They’ve got enhanced skills for the services I want on a complex and ever-changing construction site. Each of those officers would know how to manage a potential crime scene. They would know how to approach an activist posing as a dog walker. They would know what to say to that person. I think I’ve probably got the best security team in the UK.”

Recruitment is part. About half of G4S’s ESOs have some history in the military, though they also range in broader life experience, gender, nationality and physical presence. Ages range from 20 to 68 years. Joe Palmer, 30, suffered a shoulder injury while training for the Royal Marines. “I’m a fireman now, and I’m doing this too,” he said. Sam Chung spent 23 years in the marines, finishing as a physical training instructor. Since leaving, he has worked in security on a wind farm in Bangladesh and in north west Africa at a mine. “This is an enormously large and complex deployment to work in,” he said. “It has plenty of challenges for the guys, but that’s great. It stretches individuals, gives them a chance to grow into the different challenges.”

Mike Pinfield has been a security officer for ten years. “I’ve done all kinds of stuff. Dog handling, event security, terror patrols, building and construction. Nothing as big as this,” he said. “Here, you’re not just a security guard.”

Hinkley Point C’s ESOs come from all over the world. Grzegorz Kapala moved from Poland to the UK in 2005 and spent 10 years working at a yoghurt factory. “I never want to see yoghurt again,” he said, laughing. “I came here three and a half years ago. I want to change something in my life, I think it’s going to be a really good opportunity.” Mr Kapala had completed national service in Poland, but “nothing major”. “This place gives me good experience and background,” he said. “It’s not many people who can say they’ve worked on this kind of project.” As a supervisor, he now leads a team of about 16.

Paola Carlone moved from Uruguay and had been doing reception security in London. She has been working on one set of Hinkley Point C’s entrance turnstiles, welcoming some of the many thousands of people who work on the site each day. “It was a big change for me,” she said. “People get a little sceptical when I said I do this security. I’m not big and tall, but we are trained well and there are a lot of opportunities.”

Dhiraj Gurung, meanwhile, is a former member of British Gurkha regiment, from Nepal. He has been working at Hinkley Point C for eight years, and is one of several former Gurkhas working as ESOs. Gurkhas have a long history of working in G4S.

“You get this wonderful synergy when you bring in a diverse group of ages, ethnicities, genders and orientations,” Noah Price said. “We talk about culture, and we talk about what the definition of culture is. I like to use the definition: it’s how people behave when they’re not being watched.”

Almost always, however, everyone at Hinkley Point C is being watched. The roughly 120 ESOs and 60 ESO supervisors on-site are part of a broader integrated security solution developed by G4S and Frank Cannon. In a temporary building near the centre of the 430-acre site, officers sit in the security control room monitoring hundreds of remotely operated cameras and an advanced perimeter detection system. They are in constant communication with the mobile patrol ESOs, officers on the entrance turnstiles, those on the eastern and western ends of the 13.5 metre-high sea wall and the officers at the purpose-built jetty. “We control the whole security response,” George Arey, Control Room Manager, said. All incidents are logged and managed using G4S’s own software, RISK360.

About 180 men and women, supported by 90 or so operational staff, will safeguard three million tonnes of concrete, 230,000 tonnes of steel and more than 50 cranes, including one – the world’s largest – that can lift 5000 tonnes. Meanwhile, members of the public are regularly guided through the site, as are visiting officials, regulatory bodies, and those planning future major infrastructure builds. “We don’t do security at Hinkley Point C,” Alistair McBride says. “We do everything securely.”

There is a financial incentive to smooth operations. A single day of missed work can be extraordinarily costly, and allowing 4000 contractors and EDF staff onto the site is a feat of organisation besides security. The project, which began construction in 2016, is still relatively early in: G4S won its contract in 2015 and the project is due to commission its first reactor in 2025. That makes many more days when things need to run well.

Noah Price has watched the ESOs perform their duties with pride. “There is massive potential to Enhanced Security Officers,” he said. “Anywhere there’s critical national infrastructure or serious risk and complexity, you need a thinking officer – a thinking security officer. For projects like this, you can do more with fewer men and women. It’s an intelligent application of resources. I can only imagine more clients seeing the need for ESOs in coming years.”


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