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Brazil will be on the world stage as it gears up for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Tens of thousands of visitors will stream into the country, giving Brazil the chance to showcase its natural wonders, manmade attractions and beautiful beaches. In fact, the country just had a dress rehearsal of sorts with the completion of the Confederations Cup in June.
Travelers – and enterprise security executives – often underestimate the sheer size of and scope of the country if they have never been there. In reality, Brazil is a huge country – more than 3.2 million square miles and nearly 194 million people. Foreigners are often surprised that a place like Fortaleza in the northeast is actually a four-hour flight to Rio. As the world’s fifth largest country and sixth largest economy by GDP, Brazil saw more than 525,000 international travelers last year and was the ninth highest destination for foreign visitors. Brazil is also the number 10 expatriate destination, according to International SOS data.
But like any nation that size, security and health issues vary by region. Therefore, it’s important for both health and safety that security directors do their homework and know the areas where their organizations will be sending employees, as well as VIPs.
It’s never too early to take a look at the health and safety aspects of large, international sporting events in Brazil. Those traveling there – or charged with the safety and security of folks headed there – must keep in mind general travel tips which should be followed anywhere. These are tips like advance planning, staying safe on the road, packing enough medication and being vigilant when it comes to crime.
Have a plan in place to reach out and track your travelers. If an emergency strikes, could you locate all your people quickly and be able to report to your CEO who is safe and who needs help?
Those things never change.
While the risk of terrorism in Brazil is low, other factors are high – including violent crime, street crime and motor vehicle accidents. That being said, here are a few points that enterprise security executives should keep in mind as they specifically relate to Brazil and the areas where events will take place.
Safety and Surroundings
While the country’s overall travel risk rating is medium, the perils associated with travel to deprived areas of the country’s major cities – including Rio de Janeiro – are high due to the significant threat of violent crime. Although some areas of the city are considered safer, no area is immune from crime. Travelers to any area should avoid any isolated or poorly lit locations after dark and should, when possible, travel in groups. Although most violent crime occurs in poor districts in the north of the city and in the many favelas (shanty towns) scattered throughout it, mugging is a risk in all parts of the country.
Due to their perceived wealth, foreigners may be targets for opportunistic street crime such as purse-snatching, armed street robberies, car thefts and carjackings. Such incidents are especially likely to occur in tourist areas, on public transport, outside major hotels, on beaches and in other densely populated areas, though there are also risks associated with very isolated areas, too. Criminals are commonly armed; if targeted, personnel should avoid doing anything to resist or antagonize their assailant. Consider carrying a “robbery wallet” with expired credit cards, old photos and a few dollars in cash that can be handed over if necessary.
There will always be hooligans, and there will always be petty crime at sporting events of this magnitude. To put it another way, there will always be folks looking to take advantage of naïve fans. So be sure your attendees are vigilant and consider offering briefings before they go on what to look out for.
Make sure your travelers are always aware of their surroundings. They should vary their routes to and from the hotel. Always keep the hotel door secured. And in public, it’s a good idea to be cautious around overly friendly strangers. For example, encourage travelers to never accept drinks from strangers in a bar so they are not drugged. A good dose of skepticism goes a long way to preventing trouble. If something does not appear right, it’s best to trust your gut instinct.
The soccer matches and games will be closely guarded and controlled by security forces, but large crowds around other festivals may not be so secure. You should also avoid any spontaneous celebrations that could develop. If approached and demands made for your wallet, purse, cash or other valuables, give up the items. Do not carry anything that you can’t afford to lose.
Additionally, it’s not a good idea for those unfamiliar with Brazil’s roads and driving habits to rent a vehicle and head out on their own. Flying is the safest way to travel between events, and tickets are likely to be expensive, so plan accordingly.
Demonstrations and Crowds
In the event of demonstrations, though foreign travelers are unlikely to be targeted in any unrest, they should leave the vicinity immediately. The use of forceful crowd-control measures, such as batons and tear gas, by the police would pose incidental risks to anyone nearby. In fact, we saw numerous rallies and demonstrations during the recent Confederations Cup, and there could potentially be similar gatherings during the World Cup and Olympics.
Attendees to events should arrive early at the stadium and venues and minimize time spent near entrances. And they should not attempt to cross picket lines, as this may prompt a hostile reaction from demonstrators. Travelers should plan routes circumventing known protest locations – these include the vicinities of stadiums on match days – to minimize inconvenience and incidental risk of exposure to any unrest. Anticipate travel disruption in the vicinity of protests; allow additional time to complete important journeys.
“Express kidnappings” are more prevalent in urban areas of Brazil. These are kidnappings where the perpetrators hustle the victim into a car and demand a ransom for his or her safe return or, more commonly, drive the victim to a number of ATMs seeking fast cash. Usually, the victim is left unharmed – though that’s not always the case.
Always be aware that this could occur, and never forget that, as a tourist, you are easily recognized as a potential target.
Health and Wellbeing
Health and security go hand-in-in hand, so it’s important to look at both when planning for travel to Brazil. There will be a huge influx of people over an expansive geographic range – in many areas that aren’t accustomed to so much international traffic. This could lead to a number of health issues.
In this respect, it’s important to understand that health care quality varies considerably across Brazil – and each region has its own challenges. For example, those attending matches in Rio de Janeiro will have access to world-class health care. Some facilities in Rio even have English-speaking staff.
But that’s not the case in many parts of the country, including Fortaleza, where World Cup events are scheduled. In northeast Brazil, travelers will find less infrastructure and even fewer English speakers. So if a traveler ends up in the hospital, if could be problematic unless a Portuguese translator is with them.
Public healthcare in Brazil is universal and free for all, including travelers. But the demands on the system are higher than the supply, especially when it comes to beds. In rural areas and smaller cities, there is a shortage of physicians and specialists.
Private facilities are found in most major cities and are comparable to hospitals in the United States and Western Europe. Several hospitals have international accreditation, and many physicians have been trained in the U.S. and Europe.
It’s also essential to prepare for tropical diseases, and much of Brazil will be hot and humid during this time of year. These are less of an issue in places like Rio and Salvador, but if one ventures off the beaten path in the north – around Fortaleza or Recife – malaria and yellow fever become a risk.
Always remember: the more remote you are, the more vulnerable to diseases you become. So have plenty of your prescription drugs on hand and always carry a copy of your personal data.
A Dose of Caution
Last, remember that health and security is ultimately everyone’s responsibility.
The more information you and your travelers haven, the better decisions can be made. These events are supposed to be fun for your employees and their guests. They should not be frightened of traveling, but need to be armed with knowledge to make sound choices. With some foresight and advanced preparation, enterprise security executives can make sure their travelers are healthy, safe and secure.
About the Authors:
Robert Quigley, M.D., D.Phil, Professor of Surgery, Regional Medical Director, is responsible for leading the delivery of high quality medical assistance, healthcare management and medical transportation services. Prior to joining International SOS, Dr. Quigley was a board-certified cardiovascular and thoracic surgeon who directed two open heart programs within the Jefferson Health System in Philadelphia where he was a professor of surgery at Jefferson Medical College. He is also board certified in general surgery and critical care. Dr. Quigley has authored more than 100 clinical and basic science articles in peer-reviewed journals and has been an invited guest lecturer globally throughout his career. After 25 years in the clinical arena where he pioneered multiple surgical procedures/techniques, he worked as a healthcare consultant, Key Opinion Leader (KOL), offering medical expertise in the medical device and infectious disease areas. Most recently, Dr. Quigley has been appointed to the Circulatory System Devices Panel and the Medical Devices Advisory Committee at the Center for Devices and Radiological Health for the FDA. Alex Puig, Regional Security Director, Americas, is responsible for managing security assistance and consultancy services, including the monitoring and analysis of political and security events, the provision of security advice and the coordination of security assistance and evacuation operations. In addition, he oversees a regional team of security specialists who conducts security risk assessments, crisis management plans, and security and crisis training. Prior to this role, Puig was the Manager of International Assets Protection at Target Corporation. In this position, he was responsible for standards and oversight of Target’s international traveler and expatriate security program as well as all physical security standards covering the company’s international locations and employees. In addition, Puig was responsible for managing Target’s international supply chain security process within the context of the U.S. government’s Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT) program.