FEARS OVER SECURITY preparedness for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games were heightened after the series of terror attacks across Europe and in the United States.
The killing of 84 people on Nice’s seafront after a Bastille Night fireworks display, the Orlando nightclub massacre and the bombing of the Brussels metro were among the deadly incidents which kept terrorism at the top of the global agenda and threw fresh light on the need for tight and effective security wherever crowds gather.
The most obvious and immediate security measure which all visitors experience at a major event are not the number of police on the streets, but the entry points to key sites, regardless of whether they are venues, fan parks or any place where crowds gather.
According to Dennis Mills, CEO of Major Events International (MEI), who is a former British Army officer and ran a security systems business within a large corporate prior to forming MEI, security preparedness for the Rio Games has been seriously compromised by organisational confusion and an incoherent approach generally to testing Games readiness.
Accepting that a balance has to be struck between ensuring security without detracting from the Games experience, security readiness is often indicative of wider preparations and this is the case in Rio. MEI operates on behalf of specialist supplier companies which support major events by providing a link with organising committees, government departments and the local business community.
MEI established a bridgehead in Brazil in 2010 in readiness for football’s 2013 Confederations Cup and 2014 Fifa World Cup, and with the added bonus of Rio being awarded the summer Olympics for 2016. It has built a network of local delivery experts and partners, and built relationships with key delivery contacts to help with knowledge transfer, as well as decreasing the risk and enhancing success on behalf of its international clientele.
But, says Mills, a lack of fundamental understanding for the Rio Games of the role of security in the context of major events has created a potential weak underbelly. The harsh reality is there is no clear ownership of security; there is a single-shot solution of deploying over 80,000 heavily armed security forces; there is a total lack of some of the technical skills necessary at critical sites; there is late accreditation of temporary staff who will not be trained; and there are virtually no scenario rehearsals for those involved.
While the equipment acquired was adequate, it is of no use if the people operating it don’t know what they are doing
Mills points to the appointment of contractors to operate security screening equipment at the Olympic Park as a case in point. The contract, reported to be worth $1.5 million, required 6,000 staff to operate the screening process effectively.
“For them to do the job properly, they would have to be recruited, undergo thorough background checks and then be trained on how to use the equipment and deal with the public,” Mills says.
Yet the contract was not awarded until July 1, a little over a month before the opening ceremony. This contrasts with a year at London 2012 and 10 months at Vancouver 2010.
“The tendering process was an electronic (reverse) auction, which was designed to drive down costs. The result was that it was awarded to a staffing agency which is not a specialist in security. They have no experience of major event security and have an impossible task to recruit and adequately train the required number of operators in time to be effective during the Games unless urgent action is taken,” Mills says.
“While the equipment acquired was adequate for the job, it is of absolutely no use if the people operating it don’t really know what they are doing and have not undergone test events to prepare for the range of scenarios they could face. That’s a real problem.
“In the build-up to the Games a number of nations, including France, expressed fears that their teams and delegations could be targets in Rio, and the way that this process has been handled and the lack of time available for selection, checks and training suggest a fundamental lack of care for the teams, spectators, athletes and officials in the Olympic Park.”
The reality of Rio is that budgets have moved within organisations without considering the implications for meeting requirements and the timescales for procurement. After a successful start to engagement with suppliers, it has now resulted in public procurement ‘auctions’, where the only thing which matters is price.
“Safety and security have to be of paramount importance for all Games hosts in the spotlight of global media and with a surge in visitors and VIPs, regardless of recent events,” Mills stresses. “But security planning has been woefully misunderstood and underestimated in Rio.”
He believes that while many of the tales of woe around the planning and delivery of Rio 2016 have been placed at the door of the country’s economic downturn and continuing political problems, they have been used as a smokescreen for some fundamental systematic problems and poor decision-making during the seven years since winning the bid.
“At the outset, the organising committee was responsible for venue security and the related security budget,” he says. “Their levels of engagement with suppliers and specialists were high and appropriate, but during the process the budget was moved to ‘government’, leading to stagnation, confusion and a clear lack of ownership and accountability. There was a clear functional organisational failure at a time when security in crowded places is right up there in importance. Major event security is no longer just about the venues, but fan parks, corporate and national houses, and any sensitive site where crowds gather.”
Mills says that while a last-minute bailout of cash-strapped city authorities may keep police on the streets and reduce crime during the Games, there are major concerns over most other areas of security.
He adds that even test events have not been sufficiently rigorous to instil confidence that the best plans possible have been put in place and any gaps in procurement identified.
“You need proper tests involving multiagencies to flush out problems,” he explains. “Without them they risk being exposed during the main event, by which time it is too late.”
On the whole, says Mills, Rio 2016 has generally suffered from a lack of urgency in planning and organisational coherence. “The timescale elements were never fully understood,” he points out.
“Because of changes along the way and too many people in key roles who are not taking any ownership of the issues we and others have raised, Games readiness is not what it should be.
“There are too many inexperienced people in pivotal roles and the ongoing political and social disruption has really just served to disguise the lack of preparedness.”
That said, he is willing Rio 2016 to be a huge success, having been in Brazil for so many years and with a passion for the country and the people involved. “The city will provide a perfect backdrop for the Games and the people are delightful and welcoming,” he says.
“Ultimately, I think the Games will be a success, because it is in the nature of the events industry that when things get tough and an immovable deadline is approaching, contracts are just thrown in the cupboard and people do whatever is necessary to get the job done.”
So what lessons can be drawn from Rio 2016’s troubled delivery?
“There was certainly some naivety in planning, which meant that budgets were inadequate to allow the organising committee to use expert international suppliers, rather than consultants who have been there and delivered it all before,” he explains.
“In addition, changes in personnel and structure caused confusion along the way about which agencies and which individuals were responsible for different areas of operation, especially outside the organising committee. In the end, the organising committee seems to have been left carrying a burden that should have belonged to other agencies.
“Above all, I think there needs to be more oversight and commitment by the IOC to listen and react to the issues which have been openly reported in the media. Nations have to deliver what is promised in the ‘bid book’. That is fundamental.
“It is now time to take a fresh look at how Games are bid for and run. Legacy is fundamental and this is most clearly illustrated by the reputation of the host nation the second the closing ceremony is over.
“It should be a great sports event, with a fantastic visitor experience, which local people participate in, benefit from and feel proud to host. The impact should be seen in better infrastructure, new skills and jobs gained, and long-term business and tourism benefits.
“Let’s hope that the remaining challenges can be fixed as best they can, rather than continue to be ignored, so that Rio can recover and be an outstanding success.”
To read more about Brazil and its hosting of the Olympic Games click the links below: