Friday May 5th marked the opening of the “Journey Through Time” photo exhibition about the history of the UNHQ New York Security & Safety Service (SSS), which also served to kick off the organization’s 70th Anniversary Celebration. On January 31st 1947, the United Nations Security and Safety Service was created to provide a safe and secure environment for UN staff, VIPs, delegates and visitors. The opening in the Secretariat lobby was widely attended, with Deputy Secretary General H.E Amina Mohammed and several esteemed security retirees present. And the following party in the GA visitor’s area was similarly lively, with Secretary General Antonio Guterres attending to give a short speech and present plaques to two new SSS retirees.
The occasion was more than a celebration; it doubled as a chance to raise awareness about staff wellbeing within the SSS. The event is part of ongoing efforts to present the intricacies and the variety of the tasks and specific jobs performed by the Officers. It was organized by the Security Benevolent Association, which was created in the early 1980’s to promote the UN Security Officers and facilitate cooperation with their local law enforcement counterparts, the Police Benevolent Associations.
Valentin Stancu, a Senior Security Officer, Staff Union representative of DSS, and Chairperson of the Staff Council, joined me at the exhibit to explain. He says that when people think of the SSS they tend to think of women and men in blue uniforms doing only visible security work like guarding doors and running security checks. Whereas in reality, there are over 300 SSS employees at UNHQ in New York, and only about half are so highly visible. There are numerous ‘behind the scenes’ units working throughout UNHQ and in various missions. One such unit is Crisis Management, which deals with planning and preparing in case of emergencies. Another is the Threat and Risk Unit, which deals with threat assessments related to buildings or events held in the UN. Two more are Special Services and Executive Protection, which escort and protect external VIPs such as politicians and internal VIPs such as the SG, the DSG, and the PGA, respectively. Altogether there are more than 15 units with specific tasks that require special qualification in various fields, including response team (a SWAT-style unit), canine, investigations, locksmith, training, IT, and supply.
He elaborated that one purpose of the exhibit is to educate people about exactly how unique the SSS is. For example, Officers work 24/7 securing the grounds even when the building is closed for weather reasons and holidays. All Officers must be licensed to carry firearms and must train and requalify every year to keep their permits. Unlike any other UN staff category, they must submit to drug tests and must perform their job standing for long hours outside in inclement weather. To become a Security Officer one must have experience in police or military fields.
The Security Benevolent Association hopes that the exhibit and events gave UNHQ staff an interesting insight into the work of their colleagues in the SSS.
Photos by John Oko Nyaku and Mabel Harriman-Smith