As we start this years Olympics and millions of people converge on Rio, the publicity machine is starting its usual move into overdrive-both negative and positive. Already the media doom mongers are running stories (and have been for some time) that it will be a disaster and that Brazil isn’t ready for the Games. Turn back the clock to Sochi 2014 and London 2012 and it was the same story.

Unfortunately, in this day and age, scandal gets more print than success. Therefore western media groups will be approaching some stories with an agenda in mind. In Sochi we had Chechen terrorists, hidden cameras in hotel showers and missing manhole covers outside the Olympic Park. London it was the G4S Security mess and how the infrastructure would not be able to handle the increased numbers. Largely this proved to be unfounded, although there will always be incidents that never become public knowledge. Now with Rio we have (of course) the terrorist threat and also the Zika Virus among others. Oh, and of course they aren’t ready and it will be a disaster!

As I gear up for my third Olympics in a row, I get a sense of déjà vu. So what’s the real story?


A very prevalent threat worldwide, there have been reports of recent arrests of IS plotters in Brazil (although they didn’t even have a plan in place). As we have witnessed very recently in Europe, ‘self-starter’ or ‘lone wolf’ attackers who swear allegiance (in general) to IS (Al Qaeda and affiliates remain a serious threat worldwide) can wreak havoc using simple tactics that spread their message of ‘nowhere is safe’. It cannot be discounted, however France (who have experienced a horrific increase in attacks since last year) managed to host Euro 2016 with no reported incidents. In Sochi 2014, the threat was from the Chechens who are capable and ruthless. The fact that the Russian Security Forces managed to suppress them as well as run a sophisticated athlete doping program is impressive! London we had the AQ threat (ISIS was still plain old ISI back then in Iraq). No reported attacks. How? Simply put, the Olympics puts an entire countries reputation on the line. Mention Munich 1972 or Atlanta 1996 and many people will think of the attack (s) there. No country wants to have their Games remembered as such. Security Forces both overt and covert will be working 24/7 to keep everyone safe. Host nations HAVE to make it work.

Crime & IT security

In all probability, the main threat is to visitors. Large crowds attract criminal elements and Rio will be no different. Pickpockets, distraction theft, deception robbery (fake Police being a favoured tactic) and ‘hugger muggers’ are some of the numerous tactics employed by criminals, including large gangs swarming onto beach areas in a ‘grab and run’ attack. Maintain your awareness and also your ‘street sense’. Kidnap & Ransom (K & R) is also known.  Credit card and ATM fraud will also be an issue as well as IT fraud. Keep up to date with the many tactics criminals use. Forewarned is forearmed! Make sure that if you take a laptop that you have up to date antivirus software. Companies still had malware from Beijing 2008 on their laptops 4 years later at the London games. Be aware of finding a ‘lost’ USB stick or being given software (USB sticks/CD’s etc) by people as this is a perfect way to self introduce malware onto your computer. Plus as always…take your trusted door wedge!


Coupled with crime, this is the ‘real world’ threat that many will face. The Zika Virus is the big story so ensure you take adequate precautions to reduce exposure (long sleeves, high concentrate DEET, etc). As always, ensure that your inoculations are up to date. There have been concerns about the water quality recently so avoid any unsterilized water to enter your mouth (for example in the shower so if you sing in the shower as a habit then just hum!). Keep hydrated and remember the sun block. Hospitals can vary in quality so make sure you bring essential meds with you. Should you get injured or fall ill, then things can get expensive very quickly. Medevac flights cost a small fortune. Insurance as always is King!


Again, covered previously but a couple of points: During a crisis, the Government may instruct mobile phone providers to stop their service so as to enable the emergency services to have clearer comms. On 9/11, it took all of 15 minutes for the cell phones to become overwhelmed and shut down. Therefore, think satellite phones (expensive though and check their legality in that country) or internet comms (Whatsapp, Telegram, Messenger etc), although the internet signal may be cut as well. This happened recently in the Istanbul Airport attacks. A friend of mine who was nearby had to resort to Facebook’s ‘Safety Check’ service to let people know he was ok. Multiple layers of comms allow you redundancy should one fail.

Emergency Planning

No incident follows a set predictable path. Whatever plans you put in place always be ready for curve balls and stay flexible. If you want to put in a ‘rally point’ for everyone to meet should an incident occur, bear one thing in mind: the tens of thousands around you! Rally points should ideally be outside a venue. You may have a fantastic plan on where to meet etc. but should a mass evacuation occur, you cannot fight past 50,000 + people to reach your rally point at staircase 5 level 4! Go with the flow and evacuate with everyone else and THEN implement your own plan.

Grab Bag

Covered in previous topics this is an essential item whilst away. The contents is up to you, and has been covered elsewhere, but bear one thing in mind – keep it small & portable! You may have to carry it round for days. Also make sure it is wearable-rucksack type or with a carrying strap. One Golden Rule: when things go south and its not physically attached to you, then you WILL forget it! Plus of course make the decision on when to carry it, all the time or just when out and about. Get in the habit of leaving it at night in the same place, every time. As always, be prepared for the worst.  One female who survived the 2008 Mumbai attacks flew home in only her underwear, a hotel robe and an airline blanket. Don’t let that be you!

Some helpful links:   UK site for health advice UK NHS travel health site  DoS travel advice UK Foreign Office advice  (membership fees apply)

Marcus Stephens-Ofner

Marcus Stephens-Ofner

Marcus Stephens-Ofner CSC is a UK based Security Consultant who travels extensively abroad advising clients and specialises in Executive Protection and Risk Management/Business Resilience. During the 2012 London Olympic Games he was a Program Manager for a U.S. Risk Management Company and prior to that spent 8 years working overseas, mainly in Iraq as a PSD Member & then Project Manager on reconstruction Programs. His final 2 years in Iraq was as the contracted Intelligence Officer to the Embassy of Japan Baghdad. He is a Certified Security Consultant and began his career in the UK military, serving 8 years with 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards.