Brazil just hosted the world’s most highly anticipated and watched tournament, the 2014 FIFA World Cup. In a country that lives, breathes and sweats soccer, Brazil hosted 64 matches in 12 cities in either new or renovated stadiums. The final matches took place in Rio de Janeiro at Maracanã Stadium, which was renovated to hold 90,000 highly-charged spectators.
The stakes were high. Each participating team received at least $8 million, and the champions received $35 million. According to media reports, FIFA allocated $576 million for the two-week event – a new record.
There was money to be made off the playing field as well through travel packages, team jerseys and assorted memorabilia. And then there were the ad campaigns: Nike’s tagline “Risk Everything.”
"These players play on the edge because they know great moments usually spring from attempts to try something out of the ordinary,” Davide Grasso, Nike’s chief marketing officer, was quoted as saying. “Those moments do not occur without fearless risk-taking.”
The world watched fearless risk-taking daily on the soccer field, but the mere idea could cause palpitations in a corporate board room. And when those risks involve travel by a corporation’s employees to international events such as this year’s World Cup, the 2016 Olympics, or any overseas meeting or assignment, mitigating that risk is the job of only the best security professionals.
Plan then Over-Plan
Planning security for our clients attending the World Cup was extremely complicated because of the amount of infrastructure that had to be built. Adequate accommodations for visitors had not been erected when Brazil was selected as the host in 2007. New roads were uncharted, and many airport runways could not accommodate large planes. Where local police would be stationed, checkpoints located, and when access and egress routes would be opened was not solidified until very close to the start of the event. These contingencies made planning very difficult, particularly when mapping evacuation routes.
To deal with the myriad contingencies, we began recruiting additional personnel six months before the event. Because AFIMAC has a tremendous footprint in Brazil, recruiters could easily find former special forces or former police personnel to fill slots. Potential officers were vetted, received background checks, training, field-testing and monthly evaluations before they were deemed ready to perform. Those who passed these tests were paid a 50-percent advance to establish a relationship, so they would be ready to go when called.
If our advance plans assumed they would need 30 buses to transport clients, we made sure to have an additional 25 percent in reserve. The order for helicopters was upped by 10 percent. Once again, we solidified these relationships by paying small retainers to on-site companies.
Additional vehicles were essential because transportation to each of the various soccer venues was a challenge. Frequent police checkpoints on the roads could merge a five-lane road to three lanes and then to one lane, with police checking none, some, or all of a bus’s occupants at each point.
To counter these potential disruptions, we mapped A, B and C routes in advance to each venue. Lead motorcycles traveled ahead of a client’s bus caravan to scout out blocked or washed out roads and recommend changing course to one of the alternate routes.
The same plan was used to avoid any demonstrations or personnel strikes that could delay transports to airports or soccer match starting times.
Another challenge that had to be anticipated was the difficulty of transporting paper and non-verbal information, for example, ensuring that each day’s tickets and parking passes were moved from the central pick-up point to the various venues. Typical business technologies used for transporting information and documents were unavailable, so at times secure and heavily vetted runners, transporters and couriers as well as taxis and motorcycles had be ready to retrieve credentials, tickets and parking passes to get them to client destinations by the afternoon on some days or even by the next morning.
Our goal in each of these instances was clear: provide excellent customer service by not compromising protection and safety.
Duty of Care
The rationale for organizations to provide this level of protection to their employees falls under the legal definition of duty of care, which is the obligation of a corporation to ensure that it provides a safe working environment for employees, including when they are traveling out of the country. If employees are using private transportation, including corporate aircrafts, the organization has a core responsibility to make sure that legitimate vendors are selected, and that these firms comply with the safety and security protocols that align with the company’s policies.
It’s also the company’s obligation to ensure that employees have the proper information about the risks they might face. They need the proper training and knowledge to make good decisions on their own. Should they require help, they need to know the emergency number in the country where they will be traveling…911 is not a global phone number!
In today’s job market where companies need to attract and retain the best people, providing a safe environment for an employee’s family becomes a distinct competitive advantage. When family members are traveling overseas with executives, the family is one unit.
Beyond a company’s legal responsibility to abide by the duty of care, there’s a moral responsibility. It’s the organization’s moral obligation not only to assure that employees are protected but also to provide tools and knowledge so they can participate in protecting themselves and their families.
Providing accurate and actionable information to employees requires relying on good sources. The websites of the U.S. Department of State and the Government of Canada provide information on travel restrictions and advisories for various countries. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also provide free information on their websites about countries facing diseases outbreaks. Employees can sign up for alerts on their smartphones from these organizations.
At some point in a company’s growth, they will need to hire an organization with security expertise or hire a security director who can work with a third party to provide the appropriate travel security advisories.
Brazil Will Be Ready
Despite the media hype that Brazil would not be ready to host an event the size of the World Cup, AFIMAC’s on-site team believes the country deserves accolades for how well they prepared and planned to accommodate huge crowds with huge expectations. Our clients who participated were more than satisfied with their experience, and in the words of one group, “would come back any time.”
The success of the first weeks of the games bodes well for how the country will handle the 2016 Olympics. Visitors do need to have realistic expectations of how the days will unfold…there will be delays, checkpoints and washed out roads. But Brazil will be even more ready in two years when the country hosts the Olympics.
In the meantime, it is the job of professional security enterprises to perform due diligence in planning seamless contingencies for potential disruptions so their clients attending yet another international event can experience excellent customer service.
Ensuring the safety and security of clients attending or working at an international event is a fluid process. We tested a very solid plan at the World Cup. As the Olympic Games get closer, that plan will only get better.
About the Author: Peter Martin is CEO of AFIMAC Global. For more than 30 years, AFIMAC has offered emergency response and strike security, elite security, risk management and business continuity services to image conscious companies in both the North American and international markets. Martin is a recognized subject matter expert in crisis management, use of force, threat/risk assessment and personal and physical security measures.
Overseas Travel Safety Tips for Employees
- Since many places do not accept traveler’s checks, carry small amounts of cash and credit cards.
- Carry more than one credit card with low limits to protect exposure.
- Do not carry cash and credit cards in the same place.
- Never exchange money on the black market.
- Always carry some small bills for tipping.
- Know your destination’s exchange rate.
- Check that your prescription drugs are legal at your destination.
- Carry prescription drugs in their original container.
- Memorize your passport number.