Pierre Barbarie, Associate Director, University Safety

 / Photo: Owen Egan
We measure up well in terms of campus safety nationally especially since we’re right in the middle of downtown. Safety wise, we’re in very good shape. / Photo: Owen Egan

Dedicated to keeping McGill secure

By Cynthia Lee

As father of two boys aged eight and five, and coach of their respective hockey teams, Pierre Barbarie is used to a fair bit of action. Good thing, because as Associate Director, University Safety (Security Services), Barbarie doesn’t have a lot of downtime. As a key member of the group charged with the safety of the McGill community, Barbarie oversees operations and investigations on campus. The 20-year security veteran recently took time from his busy schedule to talk to the McGill Reporter about safety issues and some of his unit’s new initiatives.

What’s your background in security?

I started in the security business when I was 19 years old as a store detective working at the now defunct Eaton’s department store. My role there was to keep an eye on the merchandise and any suspicious characters. Turns out it’s a tough job being a secret shopper. But that’s where I began learning the “art” of the business, learning so much of it is based on instinct: trusting and following your instincts and monitoring the individual in question.

Why did you choose this career path?

From a very young age, I was always interested in security. My father was a policeman and even before high school I was determined to become a police officer.

What happened?

I studied at John Abbott then made my way to the Québec National Police Academy in Nicolet, Quebec. Everything was going well when two weeks before graduation I seriously injured my knee during a drill. Following surgery, I went through 11 months of rehabilitation, then a year and half later I returned to the Academy. I only had one physical test left to do, and due to my injury it didn’t work out. So, I returned my uniform and put an “x” on my dream of joining the police force.

How did you handle this disappointment?

I didn’t know it at the time because I was so disappointed, but eventually I realized that things happen for a reason. It was a difficult period, but I got over it with the support of my parents.

How did you end up to McGill?

I wanted to stay in the security field, so I began as a prison agent in Corrections. The best part is, I met my wife there, who was also working as an agent.  After a few years, the opportunity arose to join McGill – and the chance to work in security per se, but also the management field. At that time, the department needed to be built up and Louise Savard [Director University Safety, University Services] and myself were assigned this task. I was made responsible for investigations/operations. I’ve been here for nine years now.

What’s the difference between investigations and operations?

Operations is defined as the day-to-day immediate situations that might occur, which our security agents are tasked with. Investigations take place after the fact, when a crime has occurred. For example, thefts, assaults, etc.

Are there different kinds of security agents at McGill?

We have a corps of uniformed agents who officially work for an outside agency under a McGill contract and their main activity is to patrol the campus. And we also have specialists hired for our construction projects, for added bodies.

What about the bike patrol?

We initiated our bike patrol last summer. Agents are trained by the Montreal Police Bike Squad. Instead of always patrolling on cars, we’ve added bikes and we’ re getting lots of great feedback. With [Associate V.-P. University Services] Jim Nicell’s dedication to greening our campus, it wasn’t a hard sell. So far we have two bikes and eight patrollers.

What are the marching orders of your teams during these first weeks of class?

Be available for new students is No.1 because we’re very community oriented; smile and be helpful; be aware as there are lot of people on campus now.

How does McGill compare in terms of safety to other schools?

I’m happy to report we’re doing well. Most schools deal with the same issues as us: computer theft, crime against property, bike thefts – that sort of thing.

It’s difficult to compare Canadian schools and those in the U.S. South of the border, their campus police are armed, there’s more crime, more people. In Canada, our patrols don’t have the right to bear arms. But, we measure up well in terms of campus safety nationally especially since we’re right in the middle of downtown. Safety wise, we’re in very good shape.

Are there any new initiatives we should be aware of?

We’re launching Attention McGill (see below or visit http://publications.mcgill.ca/reporter/2009/09/it%E2%80%99s-time-to-sign-up-for-safety/), a mass communication software system. It’s an automated notification service that allows the University to quickly send messages to the campus community – students, staff and faculty – during time-sensitive situations and disruptions of various buildings. It simultaneously distributes voice and text messages to mobile devices, email addresses, classroom and staff phones.

When would Attention McGill would come into play?

For things like a fire, a gas leak or something of that nature. In an extreme case it could be something or someone dangerous on campus for example.

How do people get involved?

It’s an opt-in system and we’re encouraging every member of the campus community to register.  No personal information is transmitted outside the University. All information is confidential and stored on McGill servers. Mobile device numbers are submitted with a unique identifier which cannot be linked to an individual. You log-on through MINERVA to register.

What’s McGill Safety Week?

It’s the brainchild of Louise Savard and will take place from Sept. 21-25. Our three units under University Safety – Security Services; Emergency Measures & Fire Prevention; Environmental Health & Safety and Waste Management Program – have planned a series of events to reintroduce ourselves to the McGill community both downtown and at Mac. People can find the complete schedule at http://www.mcgill.ca/files/safety/Calendar_Sept3.pdf

In case of emergency, who should people call?

Downtown our emergency number is 3000 and its 7777 for the Mac campus. The lines are manned 24/7. Also, calling 911 is important, as we work closely with the police. All 911 calls from landlines are monitored and we will send a patroller and an escort vehicle to the location on or near campus when necessary. There are emergency phones on campus, one in every elevator and approximately 20 hung on poles outside. Also, cameras monitor our campus as well as card readers.

It’s time to sign up for safety

Do we have your attention?

McGill is launching a new alert service, called Attention McGill, this fall that will permit rapid communication with all members of the McGill community in order to communicate an important message as quickly and completely as possible.

Everyone who signs up, that is. And that’s what Safety Week, Sept. 21-25, is all about.

Communications technology has evolved rapidly in recent years and that has given large institutions like universities a chance to improve their ability to deliver messages to their communities widely and rapidly.

Whether it is a school closure, a weather-related event, a power outage, or a campus incident that could affect the safety or security of large numbers of staff and students, universities sometimes need to communicate quickly and clearly to a large group of people scattered over a wide area and in many different buildings that are not linked to a central public-address system.

It is a major challenge, made more important by recent history on a number of campuses around the world, including Montreal. That’s why McGill is launching a state-of-the art automated notification service that can deliver a message or series of messages all at once to landline telephones, email addresses and cell phones.

The notification service will facilitate communication with thousands of individuals within minutes, all over the downtown campus and at Macdonald Campus. The service works by feeding a short text or voice message to cell phones, voice messages to landline telephones and e-mail messages to email addresses.

For all this to work most effectively, people need to sign up and provide their cell-phone numbers through Minerva. Cell numbers, email addresses and other information will be stored securely. The automatic notification service will only be used for important messages, not for routine information or spam.

“The automated notification service is a key part of our communications infrastructure that we will use to alert you to important information within moments,” said Associate Vice-Principal (University Services) Jim Nicell. “In order for you to get the timely information you need to help you react in the midst of a developing situation, you must opt-in with your cell phone number.”

To find out how to sign up, visit www.mcgill.ca/it/ansinfo