Security and Safety at Rio’s Olympics

DelsonSilvaAgNew

I’m frequently asked if Rio is dangerous. While understandable, this question always bothers me. I have friends living in Rio who take all sides on the issue of safety. Their positions range from panic to mild paranoia.   Mild is about as good as it gets. It can be thought of as the normal urban dweller’s awareness and caution. People check out their surroundings, do not venture into certain areas, avoid exposing themselves to perceived danger and make sure that everything that might attract a criminal is dealt with in a fairly rational way. For example, people lock their cars and drive with the windows up. Women protect themselves as they see fit given the situation, which might mean not going out alone. On the mild paranoia side, this is standard behavior for any big city.

On the other end of the scale, I know people in Rio (Cariocas) who avoid going out at all costs. When they do go out, they have to engage in very strategic planning to make sure they are safe. This typically involves only using safe transportation, i.e. a personal car (the car may be armored) with a professional driver and advising friends and relatives of their plans and scheduled arrival and departure times in addition to using a cell phone with GPS locations, communication and emergency resources.

What passes for mild paranoia or panic is of course subjective. Some people, especially the young and sometimes the very poorest, have little fear either because they are fool hardy and feel invincible or have absolutely nothing to lose. The rest of us are somewhere in between. Fear often comes from lack of information, information overflow or sensationalism. Here is a link to the sensationalist Daily Mail (UK) that picked up this quite impressive and scary video: http://dailym.ai/1K5IZJu

The video is not staged but it is edited for its sensationalist effect. The reality is that yes there is street crime perpetrated typically by minors or young men and that awareness is needed. While bump, rob and run and theft of valuables are common, it is still the exception.

Here are some crime statistics and recommendations:

First, the good news: Intentional homicides per 100,000 are falling. The graph from Rio’s Institute of Public Safety (Instituto de Seguranca Publica) shows a decline in intentional homicides over the past 7 years. This information is for the state of Rio while the city of Rio de Janeiro shows a fairly constant rate of something over 1200 killings a year for the last 4 years.

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The US Department of State has a division dedicated to “Diplomatic Safety” that produces a summary covering different risks in the city of Rio de Janeiro including public safety, cyber crime and road safety. Here is the link: https://www.osac.gov/pages/ContentReportDetails.aspx?cid=19071

This report describes Rio’s overall crime rate as “Critical” and further states that “Crime is the principal threat to visitors in Brazil” and “ Low-level criminal activity continues to plague visitors and businesses alike. Drug-dealing, petty theft, and vehicle break-ins are common.” It also notes that assaults are common in beaches or parks especially after dark.

While the objective statistics and the US government evaluation do not paint an encouraging situation, the actual victimization of tourists during the Olympics may actually be less serious. There are a couple of reasons.

First, there will be enhanced security. Second people are being warned and often will be in groups. Third, many Brazilians will help tourists avoid trouble and have a good time. Obviously, if you want the excitement, it can be found. Here is a Brazilian App that is similar to Waze for crime. It can be downloaded to track crime: http://www.ondefuiroubado.com.br/rio-de-janeiro/RJ/

There are a couple of other things to take into account. Zika, Dengue and other mosquito-driven diseases are prevalent and one needs to be educated and informed.

The other great unknown is the possibility in today’s world of a terrorist shooting, bombing or assault of some kind. Brazil’s security apparatus has been collaborating with US and international agencies for a long time and are certainly aware of the potential of terrorism at a major event like the Summer Olympics. I trust nothing will happen and that perhaps as the Brazilian jokes goes: there are too many bureaucratic and infrastructure problems that impede business and terror alike.

Safe travels and enjoy the Games!  Hope to see you there.

 

Photo credit: DelsonSilvaAgnew

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Going to the Rio Olympics: A Few Suggestions

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I have my tickets and I hope you do too. Brazil expects some 200,000 Americans and perhaps some 500,000 guests for the Games. That’s a lot of people and represents a substantial amount of money for Rio and Brazil.

If you are a permanent resident of Brazil, here is the site for purchasing tickets. (https://ingressos.rio2016.com/) There are a few tickets left. Just as in the World Cup, tour companies, ticket hackers and businesses jumped in early and scarfed up most of the seats either for corporate rewards and prestige or for future resale with a nice mark up.

If you are a US resident, here is the site for purchasing tickets. (https://www.cosport.com/) According to the Rio Olympic Organizing Committee, there is only one official ticket outlet. Nevertheless, if you Google ‘Olympic tickets’ there are hundreds of possibilities. A great majority offers legitimate tickets but a word of caution is always good.

Brazil is in the midst of a major political crisis accompanied by an economic depression. By August, when the games start, Brazil will be in its third year of negative growth and rising inflation.   It is also well known that street crime in Brazil is as bad and sometimes worse than New Orleans, Chicago or Baltimore. If you are fearful of nighttime escapades in those downtowns, you might want to think about how you are going calm your nerves in Rio’s urban jungle. Tourists can be prey, especially if you have a tendency to make yourself a mark. My recommendation is to leave the expensive watches, gold jewelry and other portable and more ostentatious valuables at home and go out with a group. Everyone in Brazil has a cell phone or two, so that is not a big deal but if you are careless your iPhone 6 might disappear and “find my phone” will not provide a remedy.

Adding injury to insult, Brazil is also the epicenter of the Zika crisis. This latest epidemic comes as the country finishes preparations for the games. Some sensationalists have proposed cancelling the games but, on the other hand, Carnaval has just ended and millions of revelers in shorts, bustiers, bikinis and flip-flops hit the streets in defiance of the aedes aegyptius mosquito. While real, Zika appears to be another of the many health worries in a shrinking and interconnected world. In the past, we have feared Ebola, chicken-driven influenza, Chikungunya, SARS, and a host of others. Zika creates panic because of its possible association with the occurrence of microcephalia. While the true impacts of the disease are still unfolding, it seems that Zika may be, in reality, less harmful in scale than say dengue fever or malaria, which follow the same transmission path.

So assuming you have tickets or can obtain them and you have gotten past the health, security, economic/social/political tension, you still need to find a place to stay. If you are with an organized tour group, most likely hotel reservations have been secured. If not, you may have trouble. Rio has lots of hotels but accommodations meeting international standards are lacking. All of the hotel rooms will be full and the Rio Olympic Committee has struck a deal with AirBnB in order to make up for the shortage. The issue with AirBnB will of course be location and if the accommodations actually meet the expectations of the traveler. Rio is a big city spread out along hundreds of kilometers of coast and mountains. So if you don’t know the neighborhoods and routes, you could wind up in the wrong place. Last year, drug dealers and bandits fatally shot a couple that accidentally drove into the gang lord’s turf attempting to follow instructions with a GPS application. Aside from possible danger, roads are normally clogged and traffic flows slowly.   Just as an example, from the Windsor Hotel in Copacabana/Leme to the Olympic Village, it is only about 12 miles. This trip could take as little as 25 minutes or as long as a couple of hours.   Also what are you going to do if inhabitants of Rocinha, a favela community that sits abreast of the route, decide to shut down the roadway as has happened in the past?

Getting around physically and maneuvering the cultural challenges of a big Latin American city are important considerations.  Buy hey, it is the Olympics and Rio.  Once you are there, aside from the sports events, Rio has lots and lots of attractions. The physical beauty is spectacular and trips to Corcovado and Pao de Acucar are almost minimum requirements for photo ops. Pedra da Gavea, Tijuca Forest and the Botanical Gardens are also high on the list of places to see and this, of course, goes without mentioning the beaches. But again remember to plan.  During the Games, waiting for the trams that take you up to Corcovado or Sugar Loaf may involve lines of more than 3 to 4 hours. No fun!

Eating, drinking, and hanging out are basic parts of Carioca (residents of Rio) life. But as a gringo, how do you know where to go? Obviously, there are tour guides, Yelp, books, magazines and more information than you can process on the Internet. Still, it is best to find and hang out with locals who can make recommendations and engage in these activities with you. So with 6 months to go, it is time to build your network through social media and see whom you might find compatible.

For people in the know and people with reliable contacts and set ups, the Games are going to be very special and an amazing amount of fun. But if you arrive and you are not well prepared, then the logistics and the confusion of Rio may sap away all your energy and you could come away feeling bad. Plan, be flexible and enjoy the Brazilians, the fun and the Games.

Boa Sorte or Good Luck!!!