The UK Houses of Parliament – officially the Palace of Westminster – is home to the UK’s lower and upper houses of government, respectively, the House of Commons and House of Lords. Not only is the building an iconic London landmark, it’s also a potent symbol of UK democracy and the country’s parliamentary tradition. As such, it’s a prime target for all manner of extremists wanting to strike a symbolic blow to the UK state.
In this blog, Philip Ingram, MBE caught up with Fay Tennet, Deputy Head of Security Operations in the Parliamentary Security Department at the Houses of Parliament to discuss the particular challenges she and her team face while protecting the iconic site.
An ever-present threat
Seventeen months after the last terrorist attack using a vehicle targeted Westminster Bridge, and resulted in the murder of five people, another vehicle was deliberately crashed into the defences around the seat of the British Government.
This time, a car was driven into the barriers outside the House of Lords, knocking over several cyclists and narrowly missing two policemen – though mercifully no lives were lost.
Whether motivated by terrorism or other reasons, the threats to this iconic 11th century building and seat of government remain very real.
A unique mandate
Dealing with many of these threats is the day job of Fay Tennet, the Deputy Head of Security Operations in the Parliamentary Security Department at the Houses of Parliament. She has filled that role since joining in 2015 after having worked for Northamptonshire Police for 15 years. Fay’s leading position in the UK security industry has seen her recently appointed to the Advisory Council for the London-based International Security Expo and she is a key speaker in their conference programme.
Trying to understand her challenges, Philip Ingram MBE caught up with her just before this latest incident, for a chat about her role. As she explained: “The Parliamentary Security Department’s job is to keep parliament safe and open for business. Public access is very important for democracy and public participation is encouraged.”
“Balancing freedom of speech with safety of the building and the people that work within is always a challenge for us and that’s why we have a layered approach to security and support those who work here to ensure we’re doing all we can to keep everyone safe,” she added.
Describing how coordination and flexibility are key, Fay said, “my team numbers 350 so there’s a lot to coordinate between us. You absolutely have to have a relationship of trust, nothing else would work, and making time to invest in this relationship means that when the pressure is on, you know you can support and rely on each other.”
Partnership and coordination
Responding to a question about the importance of close working relationships with the police and other security services, Fay continued: “My working relationship with the police is absolutely key. I meet with the police several times per week and we share our plans and information to ensure that we work as a team. Of course, we’re supported by a lot of different policing teams, armed, unarmed, searching, personal protection, and so making sure this is all tied together is vital to success.” Looking at how threats can develop quickly through the use of social media Fay noted:
“People can begin a protest from their armchair, make threats and bring a groundswell of opinion into the world, but we have ways to manage and monitor this, as do the police, so we keep up with those who want to use social media in a negative way.”
Professionalising the security industry
Asking Fay what she think the priorities for the security industry should be, she replied: “Good recruitment, good training – making security a true “profession” that is recognised in protecting the nation alongside law enforcement organisations. I also think it’s important to change the culture of security by increasing the diversity.”
Fay is a recognised thought leader across the UK security community and is a champion for women in security.