By Steve Keating
(Reuters) – United States Ski & Snowboard have emergency evacuation plans in place for athletes, coaches and officials should a “nightmare scenario” unfold during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, the head of Global Rescue told Reuters on Wednesday.
The crisis response specialists believe the prospect of such a scenario is “very low” but will be prepared to evacuate the athletes at a moment’s notice if the tensions between the United States and North Korea escalate into a wider conflict.
And while Global Rescue deployed teams to provide security and other critical emergency services for United States Ski & Snowboard at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 Winter Games, plans for Pyeongchang will be more robust.
“Anytime, whether it be for this Olympic Games or Sochi, we always have emergency action plans in place in typically primary, secondary and tertiary means of egress,” company CEO Dan Richards told Reuters.
“That is no different here except those plans have been made even more robust. We’ve had a series of advance trips and site visits to make sure all the resources we might need are in place.
“We have the plans, we have the resources in place our only hope is we never have to use them.
“The likelihood that something happens we all think is very low but given the tension between the United States and North Korea there is has been an additional level of concern and forethought put into how the U.S. is going to attend these Olympic Games.”
The Pyeongchang Winter Games, which open on Feb. 9, come as the U.S. steps up pressure on North Korea to abandon a weapons programme aimed at developing nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States mainland.
The standoff between the United States and North Korea has raised fears of a new conflict on the Korean peninsula, which has remained in a technical state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
The United States has said that all options are on the table in dealing with North Korea. It says it would prefer a diplomatic rather than military solution, but that North Korea has given no indication it is willing to discuss its nuclear programme.
“I don’t think there has ever been a situation where the Games have been held 70 miles from an enemy that would be very happy to disrupt the Games and injure and kill as many people as they could,” said Richard.
“They (South Korea) have a modern security force, a modern military, certainly modern health care. So for a one off event there are going to adequate resources to deal with them and we have the ability, if necessary, to get people out of the country very, very quickly.
“Here you have a rogue regime, a very unpredictable environment and the full range of negative possibilities needs to be prepared for and that is what we are doing.
“The nightmare scenario that nobody wants to have happen is a more widespread conflict and that would be an unprecedented tragedy if that were to occur and our hope is it doesn’t.”
Richards was tight-lipped on what those emergency plans might be but noted that Global Rescue does have experience coordinating the evacuation of large numbers as they did during turbulent events around the Arab Spring in 2006.
“The thing about this is that it is hard to know what the other side might try and do,” said Richards. “There is the obvious possibility of a very large conflict and everybody knows that is highly unlikely although not zero.
“North Korea might do something to disrupt the Games just to show they have the power to do so. There are a lot of things we all need to be prepared for short of an all out conflict.”
The United States Olympic Committee (USOC) has been vague on possible evacuation plans saying only they would take guidance from the State Department.
As a member of the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC), a public/private partnership between U.S. government and private industry, Global Rescue shares and has access to information and resources that are available to the USOC although they do not work directly with the body.
“There are things the government can and does share and things that are classified that we don’t necessarily have access to,” said Richards. “OSAC is good way to share info back and forth.
“Our expectation is that we need to be ready but our hope is that what we have done in advance is enough to prevent or at least mitigate any event that might occur.”
For multimedia coverage of North Korea https://www.reuters.com/north-korea/
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx)