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Security Concerns Surround Summer 2016 Rio Olympics

Security Concerns Surround Summer 2016 Rio Olympics Homeland Security TodayThis summer, the largest sporting event in the world—the Olympics—will be coming to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Just last week, iconic buildings around the world were illuminated with the colors of the Brazilian flag in anticipation of the first Olympic Games in South America.

But with political scandal, the Zika Virus, water quality issues, and a crippling recession looming over the country, security professionals are growing increasingly concerned over the potential security risks to the athletes and crowds gearing up for the games.

In addition to political chaos and economic turmoil, Brazil must also grapple with the possibility of a terrorist attack on the games. In November, shortly following the attacks in Paris, a suspected Islamic State member posted a threat against Brazil on Twitter.

“Brazil, you are our next target,” the tweet said.

However, preparations for the event are well underway, and progress has been promising. The Rio Olympics will feature 85,000 security officials — twice as many as the 2012 London Games—to protect the anticipated 800,000 tourists and 15,000 athletes traveling to Brazil for the games. Nearly all the stadiums and sports centers where athletes will compete are now complete.

Brazilian authorities are confident the games will go off without a hitch. Speaking to journalists in Rio on April 27th, 100 days before the opening ceremony, Mayor Eduardo Paes said, “I am enormously proud that we have arrived at the 100-day mark with nearly everything ready. Many people were skeptical but we have demonstrated our abilities. We have delivered on time and on budget.”

Joseph Ryan, professor and chair of the Department of Criminal Justice and Security at Pace University, told Homeland Security Today that in the current threat environment, dangerous security incidents are no longer a matter of “if” but of “when.” However, he is optimistic that the games will be safe.

“You can always expect something is going to happen,” said Ryan. “Security teams must be absolutely vigilant.”

Prof. Ryan chaired an Advisory Group for the US Department of Justice that developed security strategies for the 1996 summer Olympics. He is also a 25-year veteran of the New York City Police Department and was their expert on evaluations of all levels of police management, and on community policing and violence.

“Right now, there are no red flags,” said Ryan. “If we go back to Egypt to the Arab Spring Uprising, if something like that were to happen in Brazil—which I am more than confident will not—that would be a major red flag.”

Ryan added, “I am presuming that from all the lessons learned from previous games, particularly the Munich games where we lost so many lives, Brazil is really going to crack down and make sure the security of the athletes is the number one priority. There is no reason that I am currently aware of to suspect any concerns regarding security.”

Based on his experience, Ryan said security personnel will likely be on the lookout for several indicators leading up to the Olympic Games, including chatter and unusual activity at sports facilities prior to the games. Security personnel should not wait for day one of the games to begin securing these facilities—vigilance is needed now to ensure nothing dangerous is entering two or three months beforehand.

Moreover, during the games, screening checkpoints play a vital role in securing these facilities, but technology has its limitations. Ryan explained, “We have not reached the end of innovation on behalf of terrorists to get something inside. You could carry one piece and I could carry another piece, and 10 to 15 other people could be carrying the other pieces, which could eventually become an explosive device.”

Security teams should also go in expecting the worse to happen in order to minimize damage and keep casualties limited in case an attack does occur. In the event of an attack, crowd control is essential to prevent mass chaos.

“When you bring security personnel into the event, they are not coming to watch the games, they are coming to watch the crowds,” said Ryan. “Their backs should not be to the crowds, they should be facing the crowds.”

If political instability in the region were to spiral out of control, signs of an Arab Spring-type event could include massive demonstrations in the street. The size of the demonstration and demeanor of the crowd signify when a demonstrations has gone beyond normal parameters. Additionally, police will often be standing by instead of controlling the crowds, indicating they are siding with the demonstrators.

However, Ryan believes this situation is unlikely at this time and there is currently no evidence that the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who is accused of violating fiscal laws, will plunge the country into utter chaos.

“Brazil is a relatively stable democracy,” said Ryan. “I haven’t seen any outward sign of an uprising like in Egypt. We have to be optimistic that Brazilians are cognizant. They fought to get the games, and they do not want to ruin their image.”

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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