As my colleagues have written about in the past, there are many safety precautions travelers should take while traveling abroad. The same is also true for the countries that host influxes of travelers. The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed the spokesman for the Rio 2016 Organizing Committee, Mario Andrada, about occasional lapses in security screening at many of the Olympic venues.

Andrada explained that balancing safety and efficiency is always a challenge. The “main goal was, let’s get rid of the lines without compromising security,” Andrada said. Instead of making spectators wait in long lines to enter the arenas, Olympic security officials are inspecting bags by hand.

We have all felt the stress and frustration from waiting in a security line – whether it’s at the airport or at a concert. There’s a reason, though, why security professionals recommend X-ray screening over checking by hand.

Large-Scale Events Need X-Ray Screening

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, security professionals, with the help of the Department of Homeland Security, began developing protocols to implement better security at large-scale events. In 2015, Major League Baseball mandated a league-wide policy requiring all venues to subject fans to hand-held metal detection sweeps or walk-through magnetometers, among other measures.

At several Rio Olympics locales over the weekend, including the beach volleyball stadium in Copacabana and the Deodoro equestrian venue on the city’s north side, screeners opted for visual inspections of bags in lieu of machine screening of backpacks and purses. In some cases, Olympic security screeners didn’t review bags at all, although ticket holders were required to walk through metal detectors.

As a security professional, I know that only the very best and veteran screeners are capable of assessing which people pose the highest risks. Even then, there is still room for human error.

Don’t Wait Until the Last Minute

Brazil has been criticized for many decisions and circumstances surrounding these Olympic Games, such as water contamination and essentially unlivable Olympic housing for athletes and coaches. When the Opening Ceremony officially started the Games on Friday, the country was still searching for experts to work as weapons screeners before spectators entered the various venues. The government was forced to call up retired police officers with little experience operating X-ray machines to replace a similarly inexperienced private contractor who had failed to hire enough staff, a product of Brazil waiting until July 1 to award the contract. Unfortunately, the retired officers were still being trained on how to use metal detectors the day before the Olympics began.

3 Tips for Major Event Security Screening at Entry Gates – including in Rio

  1. Make sure that each entry gate has designated bag search lanes.
  2. Establish express lanes for guests who are not carrying purses, fanny packs or bags. These lanes allow ticketed guests to steadily flow into a sporting venue to prevent the kind of entrance bottlenecking that is occurring in Rio.
  3. Ensure 100% of personnel undergo screening and search procedures including inspecting personnel, contractors, visitors and members of the media.

If the Olympic Committee had security personnel in place more than a day before the Games, it could have been much more prepared to check patrons’ bags. This would greatly help identify explosive devices and better ensure the safety and security of fans.

The necessary level of security can only be maintained when appropriate security counter-measures are properly engaged through effective supervision combined with continuous reviews and periodic assessments. We believe this approach – assessment and then remediation – is the best way to build the right foundation for your risk management strategy and emergency preparedness programs.

I am not confident that this is being done in Rio and hope that the lack of complete screening does not result in tragic consequences. 

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