Staying Safe in Rio During the 2016 Summer Olympics
Photo by David Cogswell
For the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio, the U.S. State Department is preparing for the kinds of issues it normally sees—like petty crime—but not for any “large scale catastrophes,” according to Mark Goldrup, American Citizen Service Country Officer for Brazil with the State Department.
Goldrup spoke to ASTA members during a recent webinar on staying safe in Rio during the Summer Olympics, slated for Aug. 5 to 21, and the Paralympic games, Sept. 7 to 18.
His presentation included an overview of the tools available to travel agents who have clients heading to Rio. He also provided an overview of STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), a free service of the Bureau of Consular Affairs.
The government plans to have extra staff on hand in Rio during the Summer Olympics to assist any U.S. citizens who encounter problems, said Goldrup. It’s also meeting with hospitals in Brazil to assist American travelers with medical emergencies.
Goldrup said the government is tracking attendance for the Olympics and, “at this point we’re not seeing anything below the expected sales compared to past Olympics.”
“We do see more sales closer to the event and we do know that Rio hotels are overbooked,” he added. “Indications are that it will be a healthy attendance.”
The government has an embassy in Brasilia and consulates in Rio, Sao Paulo and Recife, Goldrup said. In the next few years it will be adding additional consulates.
“We have a strong presence in Brazil and we will bringing staff from other consulates to the Rio consulate,” he said.
Observers point to a host of problems Brazil is facing just as it prepares for the Olympics.
Since the end of last year a major epidemic of the mosquito-borne Zika virus has plagued the country and affected preparations for the Olympics. The IOC and some national Olympic federations are reportedly formulating plans to protect athletes and fans.
There have also been political issues. Late last year, with a corruption scandal and a slumping economy, political opponents in the Brazilian economy tried to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. A majority of the Senate this spring did vote to remove her, suspending her from the presidency. She now faces an impeachment trial.
Brazil is also facing its worst recession in more than a century as unemployment has risen to close to 11 percent and wages have declined.
Still other problems include environmental hazards like Rio’s polluted Guanabara Bay, a spike in police killings, and the questionable progress of improvements to the city’s transit, housing and other infrastructure.
Goldrup said that while the State Department offers information on Zika, it defers to advice from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
The State Department’s emergency assistance in addition to medical issues includes assistance involving U.S. citizen arrests, emergency passports, citizens’ welfare and whereabouts, and crisis response, Goldrup told agents. Other types of assistance it offers includes aid in the deaths of citizens, financial and victim assistance, and citizenship documentation.
Meanwhile, Goldrup urged agents to have their clients enroll in the STEP program which provides safety information from U.S. embassies on travelers’ destinations, helps the embassies contact American travelers in an emergency—be it a natural disaster, civil unrest or a family emergency—and helps family and friends keep in touch with travelers in emergencies. Travelers can enroll at https://step.state.gov/step/.
The government is also on twitter for the Summer Olympics with the hashtag #UsandRio and information is available https://br.usembassy.gov/
A smartphone app that includes a hospital locator for local Rio emergency services along with information on how to reach U.S. consulates and the embassy, is available at the Apple store, Goldrup added.
Contacts that agents can provide their clients with include www.travel.state.gov and 24/7 phone numbers for Overseas Citizens Services: 888-407-4747 from North America, and 202-501-4444, from overseas.
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