You lucky bastard: you’re going to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. We’re not going to talk about the events (USA, USA, USA!) or the sky-high cost of lodging (up to $1000/night). No, here we’re talking about safety and security in a city about 200 miles from Chechnya (Chechens conducted both the 2002 Moscow Dubrovka Theater hostage seizure and the 2004 Beslan school massacre) and 250 from Dagestan, both hotbeds of discontent with the Russian government.
Post-9/11, everyone seems to have an opinion about terrorism: its origins (poverty, religious radicalism, colonialism), its flavors (separatist, criminal, ideological), its methods (bombing, murder, kidnapping, hijacking). With all the pundits weighing in on the academic side of the subject, there’s a lot of fear and very little to temper it. During the course of our conversations about Sochi, we inevitably turned to our contributor, Scott Packard, who served six years with the Marine Corps’ premier anti-terrorism unit, the Marine Corps Security Force Regiment (the guys the State Department calls when an embassy is in jeopardy). He has some easy but important tips and guidelines on what you can do to keep safe in Sochi.
Enter our Expert:
First, we want you to know you’re gonna be fine. Both the International Olympic Committee and the Russians have poured immense resources into ensuring events proceed without incident. Since the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, athlete security has been a very tight on the Olympic campus. The bombing at the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta brought the same scrutiny and attention to security to the audience and venues where the athletes compete. The Russian government is devoting considerable resources to security in Sochi and establishing a security cordon around the city. Still, large-scale public events attract terrorists; the North Caucasus region is particularly prone to acts of terrorism such as bombings and hostage taking; and there’s no reason you shouldn’t reduce your risk and exposure. Here’s how to minimize your exposure to terrorist activity and criminal elements.
|Low Profile||Keep a low profile and be unpredictable. An inconspicuous demeanor and dress, coupled with a varied schedule, will keep from attracting unwanted attention, as well as preclude a planned effort against you.|
|Heads Up||Pay attention to your surroundings and anything out of place of suspicious. Listen to feelings of unease — this may be your primal monkey-brain warning you of danger.|
|Don’t Overshare||Let someone you trust know your schedule and itinerary. Keep personal details private from anyone unless you have verified his or her identity. Americans often overshare.|
|Learn Key Phrases||Learn a few key phrases in Russian, such as “I need a doctor/police officer”.|
|Emergency Contacts||Write down emergency numbers and know how to use the local phone system.|
|Vary Your Transportation||Vary your modes of commercial transportation. Select busy stops, but avoid standing close to waiting groups.|
|Buddy System||Travel with a companion.|
|Taxi Smart||Use only marked taxi services and pre-arrange transportation through your hotel concierge whenever possible.|
|ID Your Driver||Ensure the driver matches his or her license picture.|
|No Loitering||Do not linger near open public areas. Move through security checkpoints as quickly as possible, instead of loitering on the unsecure side. Meet up inside security areas, not outside.|
|Floors 2-8 Please||Request a room facing away from street, above the second floor and below the eighth. This offers protection against blast effects but ensures fire and rescue personnel can reach you in the event of a problem.|
|Do Not Disturb||Place the “do not disturb” sign on your door and do not open the door for unexpected visitors.|
|Occupied||Leave the lights and the TV on each time you depart to give the impression your room remains occupied.|
|Don’t Reveal Lodging Details||Keep your room key hidden to prevent revealing your lodging location. That tall, statuesque blonde doesn’t really find your accent overwhelmingly charming.|
|Defining an Attack||Active shooters are individuals or groups who attempt to kill people in confined and populated areas, often with no pattern to victim selection. It is also a known terrorist attack, the most recent example is the mall attack in Kenya. These situations are often unpredictable and evolve quickly, before law enforcement can respond.|
|Exits and Cover||Remain alert to your surroundings. Keep an eye out for potential cover and always have a primary and alternate exit route.|
|Get Out||If an attack occurs, make reasonable efforts to evacuate. Use cover to move, but avoid lying on floors or standing next to walls – ricocheting bullets “hug” the surface from which they deflected.|
|Grenades||Grenade shrapnel rises in a cone from the detonation. If grenades are thrown, lay flat with feet and knees together, soles toward the explosive, using your shoes, feet and legs to protect vital organs.|
|Take Shelter||If you can’t evacuate, shelter in place out of the shooter(s)’s view and protected from projectiles. Try to keep options for movement open. Silence your cell phone, but call emergency personnel even if unable to speak so they can listen to your surroundings.|
|Last Resort||As a last resort, try to disrupt the shooter by throwing items or using an improvised weapon. Yell at the shooter. This is a very risky move and should be used as a last resort.|
|When First Responders Arrive||Once first responders arrive, remain calm and follow instructions. Raise your hands, empty, and spread your fingers. Don’t make sudden quick movements. Don’t cling to emergency personnel and avoid screaming or yelling.|
All the above steps reduce the likelihood of problems during your trip. Further, with these techniques and an alert, defensive mindset, you’ll be better prepared for unlikely problem, should it arise. Have a safe Olympics.