With 230 athletes competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics, not to mention more than 10,000 coaches, trainers, press corps and spectators, the U.S. has a vested interest in the security of the games. Host country Russia already devoted billions of dollars to ensuring the safety of everyone involved, but the U.S. has taken its own steps to prepare for an emergency.
Emergency plans are in place
The U.S. State Department took the lead in planning a crisis response strategy aimed at helping Americans in Sochi. Efforts began by moving two Navy warships into the Black Sea, NBC News reported, including the command ship USS Mount Whitney and the guided missile frigate Taylor. In addition to housing about 500 military personnel, these ships have small landing decks for emergency flights out of Sochi.
A nearby U.S. military base in Ramstein, Germany, is also prepared for action. Transport aircrafts and medical evacuation teams are ready to move into Sochi should they receive a call, allowing them to reach Russia within six hours of the State Department issuing orders. These crews would be needed if a major event occurred and Americans had to be evacuated.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told CNN reporters, "If we need to extract our citizens, we will have appropriate arrangements with the Russians to do that."
Hagel, along with other U.S. officials, stressed that these resources are on hand only in the event Americans need to be evacuated. Military force would not be used. Hagel also had several conversations with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu, according to CNN, and the two agreed to keep an open dialogue throughout the games.
Organizations work together to provide security
The primary focus for American officers is the safety of Olympians. In addition to the military forces remaining on standby, State Department workers are on the ground in Sochi, relying on information gathered through Russian surveillance. These agents are tasked with accompanying athletes to each venue and event, which ensures that someone is always on the lookout for potential safety threats.
Should a crisis arise, agents on the ground will be in close contact with military warships, receiving current intelligence and vital information from the command center. Security agencies will also be in constant communication with the staffers at the Ramstein base. This coordinated effort requires input and cooperation from multiple law enforcement agencies and military branches, creating a swift emergency response that could save lives.
American forces take a backseat to the host country
This is not the first time the U.S. contributed to security for games hosted on foreign soil. During the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, the U.S. cooperated with Canadian officials to ensure a smooth event. According to The Washington Post, hundreds of Coast Guard police helped patrol the waters off the coast of British Columbia, and the TSA assisted in monitoring restricted flight zones over the Olympic grounds. Diplomatic and border security teams also offered support to the Canadian security efforts.
Balancing the need for increased security with that of smooth international relations can be difficult. U.S. agencies recognize, however, that hosting nations want to be able to run the event as they see fit. For this reason, American teams typically maintain a low-profile during the Games and only act as support for the host country. While the U.S. also enacts an emergency response plan to keep athletes and spectators safe, this is done with input from the host. These efforts ensure that, even if a crisis arises, diplomacy between the U.S. and foreign nations will not be affected as a result of swift and comprehensive emergency response.
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