The PyeongChang Winter Olympics in South Korea have been appointment television in my home. I can only imagine the tension these athletes feel as their event approaches, followed by the great relief once they finish and know they have done everything they could to be successful. These Olympians have trained tirelessly to prepare, some over the entire course of their young lives.
With an international event such as the Olympics, however, intense preparation isn’t only for the athletes. The security professionals behind the scenes have also spent much of the past four years gearing up for this global spectacle.
Security Planning Years Ahead
For the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, security planning for the U.S. delegation began in earnest over two years ago. The goal: To ensure the safety and security of the tens of thousands of U.S. spectators, athletes, staff, diplomats and even off-duty U.S. military personnel there to experience the games. In other words, security planners were tasked with ensuring the focus of the world remains on the games – and not a terrorist event.
The Department of State Diplomatic Security Service, or DSS, is the entity responsible for securing international events. It works closely with the host nation, foreign partners and other U.S. organizations in the military, intelligence and law enforcement fields. For the past two years, DSS has added special agents stationed in Korea, working to lead the U.S. security delegation. The State Department establishes an International Security Event Group, or ISEG, which coordinates the activities of all U.S. assets available for security or response to an event. More than 20 U.S. agencies take part, from the United States Secret Service providing protection for the Vice President to the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which would respond and evacuate Americans in the event of a crisis.
A Coordinated Effort
The State Department’s unique capabilities make it an ideal entity to lead the complex mix of diplomacy, security, intelligence and law enforcement concerns at international venues. In addition, the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, South Korea provides support and direction through the Regional Security Officer (RSO), who is also a member of the DSS. The RSO, on the Ambassador’s primary staff, is responsible for security of the U.S. mission in a host country and for ensuring the safety and security of staff, dependents and U.S. citizens traveling or living in the host country.
However, even with the herculean efforts of the international security services of the United States, the host country and security delegations from all of the participating nations, there are still steps that individuals should consider to take charge of their own security while traveling.
3 Tips Before You Travel
- Register with the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). This service ensures that the U.S. Embassy is aware that you are in a specific country and provides contact and other information in the event of an emergency. It also allows you to register for automated notifications if the U.S. government issues warnings for areas to which you are traveling.
- Make sure your health insurance will cover your healthcare and medical evacuation needs if you have an emergency while overseas. Large cities in Korea have modern, Western-style hospitals, but your health insurance may have specific requirements. And don’t forget: The flu this year has been designated a global pandemic, so anywhere you travel, you are at risk. Get the flu vaccine!
- Make sure you have a copy of your passport (even a picture of it on your cell phone is better than nothing). Make sure your friends and family back home have your itinerary and know how to contact you.
While You Are Visiting
- Be health-conscious. Wash and dry your hands regularly, and try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth.
- Practice “situational awareness.” Be alert for activity around you that seems out of the ordinary. Be aware that while you are there for the spectacle of the games, others may be more interested in your wallet and cell phone. While violent crime is not particularly common in South Korea, common theft occurs more frequently in tourist areas and crowded markets. Be cautious in crowded entertainment, nightlife and shopping districts.
- Use safe transportation. One of the largest causes of death or injury to Americans traveling abroad isn’t terrorism – it’s car accidents. During the Olympics, security on public transportation has been beefed up, so it is often your safest mode of transportation. Uber and other internationally recognized transportation services are also relatively safe. Just make sure your driver is who they say they are. In other words, use the app!
- Know the escape routes from your hotel room. Keep a tiny flashlight with you at all times, and make sure you know where the emergency exits are from your floor. If there is no power, you will appreciate even the smallest flashlight. Sure, your cell phone may have a flashlight feature, but it will drain our phone’s battery quickly. In an emergency situation, you do not want to be stuck in the dark with a dead phone battery.
- Don’t be flashy with your cash. When traveling, being safe often means being discreet.
A trip to a major international event like the PyeongChang Olympics is an exciting opportunity. Tens of thousands of individuals have worked to keep you safe and secure. Never forget, though, that your personal security is your personal responsibility.
Go Team USA!