Mark Whitaker tells Emily Wright what a bomb disposal expert is doing in the construction industry
You started out in the army - how did you get into structural engineering?
When I was in the army I did a technical officer's course, covering everything from explosives safety to weapons systems. Learning about building structures was an important part of the course and got us involved with planning and design. After my training, I spent seven years testing weapons systems before moving into bomb disposal. I have brought that expertise to Buro Happold, to advise on safety measures.
What kind of person works in bomb disposal?
Our course included psychometric tests to work out if you were right for the job. You had to be able to cope with the pressure and be quick, clear and calm enough to communicate with the people you have to protect. If you couldn't do these things, you wouldn't get through. You are in charge of everyone at the scene, you don't have time to worry about yourself. The nerves come afterwards when you look back and think "did I do the right thing there?"
What's the link between bomb disposal and building security?
Part of the job was on the preventative side, doing contingency plans for public events, such as the state opening of parliament. As soon as you started you did exercises and training with the police, walking round facilities like airports developing contingency plans.
So when you go on holiday, do you size up the airport security?
Out of habit, you do find yourself looking at the systems and procedures - they're quite variable across Europe and the world. Generally in the developed world they're quite good.
What do you want to achieve in your new role at Buro Happold?
I am hoping to help integrate security and risk management into projects, focusing on fire engineering, facade, lighting and disability design. This is in the best safety interests of the company but also helps with insurance policies. Insurance firms need a lot of persuading to cover a building that could be seen as high risk. By showing that it has risk management measures in place, a company is in a much better position.
Working for Buro Happold must be a lot less stressful than bomb disposal …
All jobs have an element of stress, whether you're working on an operation and you need to know that your equipment's working, or silly things like knowing your route through the middle of a city at a busy time. One of the benefits of bomb disposal though is that you have as much information as anybody and you're in complete control. We were in a better position than the infantry who didn't have all the information to hand. As I understand it, people are stressed by a lack of information and a lack of control.
Name Mark Whitaker
Current job Security consultant to engineer Buro Happold
Employment history More than 25 years’ experience in the private security industry, counter-terrorism and the British Army
Qualifications Qualified ammunition technical officer, Member of the Institute of Explosives Engineers, Member of the Security Institute, Member of the International Institute of Bomb Technicians and Investigators
Lives Lune Valley, north Lancashire
Hobbies Hillwalking and outdoor pursuits, following rugby and listening to music