With many of you headed for the Olympics in Brazil, while I know you likely have your security planned out, for you and your organization, I tapped into the experts at AS Solution in case you want an extra perspective.
By Christian West and Bob Oatman, AS Solution
Since the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian recession has deepened precipitously. So, what should travelers headed to Brazil for the Olympics expect this time around? And how do they best stay safe?
The Summer Olympics will take place from August 5 – 21, 2016. Unlike the World Cup, the vast majority of Olympic events will be in Rio de Janeiro itself-although some football (soccer) games will be played in other cities around the country. The focus on Rio doesn’t necessarily make things easier in terms of security, however. The city will have to cope with an influx of at least 500,000 tourists. Furthermore, a record number of athletes and countries will be represented, with over 10,000 athletes and 206 countries set to compete.
Make Sure You Have An A-List Driver
Travel by road in Brazil is notoriously unsafe. The WHO estimates that nearly 44,000 persons are killed in traffic accidents annually, or roughly 22 deaths per 100,000 people. This is twice as high as the US rate, and more than five times as high as Germany’s. As such, the risk of death or injury by traffic accident must be considered to be one of the most significant for any visitor to Brazil. This means hiring a reliable drive is very important. The good drivers – the ones who are trained, vetted and with local knowledge – are always the first to get booked. This means that if you wait too long to make arrangements for the Rio Olympics, you could end up with a second or third-string driver from another city who won’t be able to get you around the inevitable traffic jams in the fastest way possible. Smart companies will want to book early through a specialist partner who knows how to get things done in Rio.
Make Sure Your Car Is Credentialed
You should also try to arrange for a credentialed car. When crunch time hits, and the Olympics in a major city are pretty much non-stop crunch time, a credentialed vehicle is a huge advantage. This allows you easier access to controlled zones and the ability to use specially designated express lanes. It can save a lot of time.
Complacency Is Your Enemy
The country has announced tremendous measures to ensure the security of attendees, athletes, and locals. The number of security employees involved is daunting: 47,000 Brazilian security personnel will work between August and September, including 10,000 officers from the National Force who will be dispatched to Rio for the duration of the events. An additional 38,000 members of the armed services will also be working security. Overall, some 85,000 security staff are expected to be present in Rio. By comparison, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London involved 40,000 people. However, visitors should not assume that their great numbers, in itself, will ensure security in all cases. This festive ambience, together with tens of thousands of security personnel clearly visible in many places, can lead to a sense of complacency. People might drop their guard and think that anything goes. ‘Hey – let’s go visit a favela and see what all the talk is about’, you might hear. Party zones with lots of drinking can be fun, but they also present risks. As security professionals, we always need to stay vigilant and combat complacency – both in ourselves and in the client organizations whom we serve.
Crime Doesn’t Stop For Big Events
In terms of crime, not much has changed in Rio since the World Cup, whereas things have gotten worse in the rest of the country. 2015 saw a new peak in violence with more than 58,000 violent deaths during the year nationwide. This makes Brazil one of the countries with the highest number of violent deaths in the world. Murders remain the primary cause. Killings by police officers, on and off-duty, come in second. If it’s any consolation, Rio de Janeiro is safer than many other areas in Brazil. In fact, Rio didn’t even make it to the top 50 of Brazil’s most violent cities. Depending on the neighborhood Rio can still be risky, however, and crime remains a serious problem. Popular tourist destinations should be approached with care, as tensions in the favelas and street crime continue to put a damper on safety. For example, a string of attacks and robberies along Rio’s popular beaches throughout 2015 -most noticeably Ipanema and Copacabana-forced authorities to deploy over 700 police officers on weekends and set up roadblocks between tourist spots and roads leading to the poorer parts of the city.
If you’re planning to stay in Rio without close protection or security drivers, the usual caveats apply: adopt basic security precautions and stick to well-known and populated areas. Despite their risks, these areas are safer than others for foreign tourists who don’t know their way around town and Brazilian culture.
You’re The Boss: What’s Your Company’s Plan?
When we worked the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, the client had hundreds of staff and guests in town. We learned that it was best to do security awareness training for them on day two rather than the day of arrival. On the first day, people are simply too jetlagged and excited by the buzz to be receptive. It’s also vital to constantly update security recommendations as the games unfold and new developments occur. Things change fast, and what starts as a small demonstration in one part of town can quickly escalate into something bigger in another.
Terrorism: Always Lurking
While Brazil hasn’t been a prime target for large-scale terrorist attacks, the high visibility of the Olympics always presents a heightened risk-especially after the recent attacks in Paris, Mali and Tunisia. However, Rio’s state security chief has stated that no immediate changes were made to the country’s security plan after Paris, “because terrorism was always treated as a priority”. In order to prevent an attack, Brazil is also working directly with several countries as part of its new Integrated Anti-Terrorism Center plan, which consists of a specific body of intelligence and security specialists.
The Zika Virus
The news on the rapid spread of the Zika virus is not good. There are no known cures or vaccinations, and how the games will ultimately be affected remains an open question. Some point out that mosquitoes carrying the virus are likely to be less prevalent during the games, since the Olympics take place during Brazil’s winter season – and because Rio is far from northeastern Brazil, where Zika infections are most prevalent. Others urge women of child-bearing age to simply stay away from any unnecessary risk – including all of Brazil. If you are pregnant, or travelling with someone who is, it is of course essential to keep a close eye on the Zika situation. This is hard enough for public health experts to do; as we write this, the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Brazilian organizers are all offering different kinds of travel recommendations.