As Russia prepares to welcome the international community to Sochi, there is much speculation and uncertainty surrounding the safety of visitors attending the event.
Ahead of the Games, MedAire, an International SOS company, and Control Risks are sharing essential tips for all those travelling to Russia.
The main risks at this year’s Winter Games are associated with movement in the security exclusion zone, which features a number of unprecedented measures. These include a large-scale deployment of security force personnel, the establishment of police checkpoints, restrictions to movement of people and vehicles, as well as surveillance of electronic communication.
Denio Alvarado, Vice President of Global Aviation Security at MedAire and Control Risks says:
“These security measures have been introduced due to the elevated risk of terrorism during the Games and are aimed at reducing the risk of an attack against Sochi’s transport infrastructure and key sports facilities. Anyone travelling to Sochi for the 2014 Winter Games needs to be fully prepared and aware of the challenges they may face.”
Dr. Paulo Alves, Global Medical Director of Aviation Health for MedAire, says there will be healthcare challenges for visitors:
“Language barriers and access to healthcare are key concerns for visitors travelling to Russia. Athletes taking part in the games are well catered for, but foreign nationals may be faced with significantly different medical care options than they are used to.
Access will be more challenging for the traveler and knowledge of the healthcare options and how to use them is essential. We strongly advise visitors gain a good understanding of the channels to follow or where to get medical assistance when they need it.”
MedAire and Control Risks aim to help visitors prepare for potential challenges with the following advice:
Flying to Sochi
- Sochi-Adler International Airport is the primary airport that serves the resort town of Sochi. There are several restrictions currently in place at Sochi Airport and all slots are tightly controlled by Federal Security Service (FSS) and the Federal Air Transport Agency (FATA). Many of these restrictions will be in place from the period that started 1 January 2014 and continuing through 30 April 2014.
- Landing for business aviation aircraft is permitted at Sochi, however parking is not permitted and only a two hour window is granted before the aircraft must depart. This does not apply to aircraft carrying government officials, Olympic Committee members, or other arrivals that have a qualifying sponsor.
- Security at the airport is jointly provided by Russian security forces and contracted security personnel who provide 24/7 monitoring of the perimeter, facilities, and ramps. A quick reaction force was developed and currently maintains a 24/7 readiness status to respond to airport specific threats. Additional security forces from the Russian Military and National Police Force are currently deployed in the area and will likely remain at the airport throughout the 2014 Olympics using it as a staging area for security force deployments throughout the area.
- If any fellow employees are travelling commercially, remind them to pack liquids, gels and medicines in checked luggage when boarding flights. A security ban on liquids in carry-on luggage was announced on 8 January, although officials have indicated some medicines may be exempt. Advise your colleagues to check with their airline in advance.
- Speak with your travel safety and security service about how you will be notified should an event occur in Sochi that could affect your safety or travel itinerary. Some providers, including MedAire, provide clients with email alerts and actionable advice to remain safe should an event occur.
While in Russia
- Maintain flexible itineraries as traffic congestion is likely to be severe. For example, journeys from Sochi to Adler can currently take up to two hours at peak times.
- Travelling by rail is the quickest and most convenient means of getting between central Sochi, the Coastal Cluster and the Mountain Cluster. However, overcrowding is likely at peak times.
- Remain vigilant at railway stations and on trains due to the underlying risk of terrorist attacks. Report any suspicious behavior or suspect packages to the authorities, utilizing a local, Russian speaking contact if possible.
- Book licensed taxis through hotels and be aware that it is difficult to find taxis without booking in advance. There is also a high incidence of taxi scams, so avoid using cars off the street which may be unregistered.
- Ensure your personal documents (most importantly your passport and entry visa to Russia) are with you at all times. The authorities may require these documents at various checkpoints - carrying originals rather than photocopies will be a great help in any dealings with them.
- If you do not speak Russian, try to have someone who can act as an interpreter with you, if at all possible. This will help avoid confusion and delays, particularly with the authorities.
- Information security will be a serious issue. All travelers should assume that all communications are vulnerable to interception. Avoid communicating sensitive matters by telephone, email, SMS or fax and confine business correspondence to a secure private network (VPN).
- Credit card theft and fraud is possible, so try to use cash where possible. Only use credit cards in reputable establishments. ATM fraud is on the rise, so if you need to withdraw cash it is advisable to do this inside banks.
- Before travelling, make sure you change your money in your home country. Currency exchangers in Russia only accept clean, crisp bills making exchanging currency difficult.
- Anticipate an extremely limited availability of suitable business accommodation and expect price fluctuations.
- Crime levels are high, but the primary risk for travellers on a day-to-day basis is street crime, including petty theft and pick-pocketing.
- Racially and ethnically-motivated crimes remain a key concern and generally target migrants from Central Asia and the Caucasus. There is also a high risk of verbal and physical assault. It is, therefore, recommended that foreigners, who visibly belong to an ethnic minority avoid walking after dark and do not walk alone.
- Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender travelers should avoid public displays of affection. This will help reduce the risk of homophobic abuse or in more extreme cases attacks, as well as reduce the attention of law enforcement agencies, who can fine, deport or temporarily imprison offenders for up to 15 days.
- Avoid all rallies and demonstrations, particularly in Khosta district, due to the potential for localized disturbances. The security forces may forcibly disperse unauthorized protests.
- Road safety in Russia is poor due to speeding and lack of regard to traffic regulations. Road accidents are one of the leading causes of injury for travelers. Remember to wear a seatbelt.
- Access to emergency care may be limited, especially people seeking care through an emergency department of a hospital. Additionally, specialist care might not be readily available. There are limited options of private outpatient care.
- Foreign doctors are not allowed to practice and many doctors do not speak English. It is recommended to bring someone who can act as an interpreter with you if possible, if you visit a medical facility.
- If you are bringing any medication with you, bring an original copy of your prescription from your doctor.
- For any emergencies when you are in Russia, dial 030 or 112. Call your remote medical service provider for non-emergency assistance.
MedAire provides business and general aviation clients with travel risk solutions. For more information, visit www.medaire.com/sochi2014.
Since 1985, thousands of passengers and crewmembers have relied on MedAire’s travel risk solutions. Credited with establishing the world’s first global emergency response center for aviation, MedAire is the standard solution on all new aircraft from Gulfstream, Boeing Business Jets, Beechcraft, Bombardier, and others.
Crewmembers, owners and passengers rely on MedAire’s comprehensive program of assistance, specialty medical kits and equipment, and crew medical training to mitigate their travel risk. MedAire is an IS-BAO Support Services Affiliate and a critical medical and security component of an aircraft's SMS.
International SOS (www.internationalsos.com) is the world’s leading medical and travel security risk services company. We care for clients across the globe, from more than 700 locations in 76 countries. Our expertise is unique: More than 10,000 employees are led by 1,200 physicians and 200 security specialists. Teams work night and day to protect our members.
Control Risks (www.controlrisks.com) is a global risk consultancy specialising in political, security and integrity risk. The company enables its clients to understand and manage the risks of operating in complex or hostile environments. Through a unique combination of services, wide geographical reach and by adopting a close partnership approach with clients, Control Risks helps organisations effectively solve their problems and realise new opportunities across the world.