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For security at Olympics ’it’s cheaper, easier, and safer to overprepare’: Kroll Managing Director

Jordan Strauss, Managing Director in the Business Intelligence and Investigations Practice of Kroll, joins Yahoo Finance to discuss security in the Olympics and outlook on any potential future changes.

Video Transcript

- I want to turn now to look at the Olympics and health safety and security amid the pandemic. We're joined now by Jordan Strauss, Managing Director in the Business Intelligence and Investigations Practice of Kroll. So Jordan, we've got the games kicking off today. So they're not going to be postponed or canceled which some folks had been talking about in the days running up to this. However, I'm wondering if you think that we might see some pauses happening during the Olympics, especially if we start to see those case counts really start to spike?

JORDAN STRAUSS: Hey, Christian. First of all, it's great to be back with you. Second, I keep thinking when I was at the joint operation center in the 2010 Vancouver games along with the rest of the United States government folks, we had four very slow, very exciting weeks from a sporting perspective and very boring weeks from a security perspective. And obviously that's what we want here.

You know, whether we're looking at the police, the security guards, all of those folks, it's important to remember they're just the tip of the iceberg from the security apparatus. There's a massive multi-year security effort that for the last year and a half has focused intensely on COVID and COVID contingencies. And, you know, just like any other large event or high profile individual or high profile organization they're going to have crisis plans here.

Now, we think a pause is pretty unlikely. We can look to just last year, the host government was very hesitant to cancel the games and although there have been a number of unfortunately athletes testing positive. Given the quarantine time it takes for an athlete to safely recover, that puts-- that pushes you past the closing ceremonies pretty quickly. So we think it's probably going to move forward.

One thing that the host did do was to stop spectators from going. And we think that's a great idea. You know, when we're working with large organizations, when you're dealing with a high-profile event one of the things you want to do is you want to limit that attack surface, right? Whether it's for unlawful protests, risk of COVID spread, cybersecurity, anything, right? And by limiting the number of people who are there they're dramatically reducing the risk of new vectors be they COVID or terrorism of infiltrating.

- So I do actually, I want to get to that in just a moment. But I just want to step back for just-- just a second. I know that you're saying that some kind of pause or delay or stopping of the games is highly unlikely, but let's just say there was, what would it take for something like that to happen in your estimation?

Would it have to be-- would we have to start seeing some of these case counts, these positive case numbers rising perhaps by the hundreds? We've been seeing them rise by the tens so far. Or do you think that perhaps there's even a chance that one of the country's delegations can say, listen, we've had too many folks on our team test positive, this is too much of a risk, we're going to start pulling out from the games?

JORDAN STRAUSS: So it would take multiple countries withdrawing their athletes due to a risk to work any kind of meaningful pause. I believe the last pause in an Olympics was that there was a 24-hour pause in the ceremonies during the 1972 Munich Massacre. So these things do tend to move forward.

We think if multiple countries withdrew, if there was some other kind of event, be it a natural disaster or another external security threat, that could work a pause. But it really would take quite a lot at this point to stop things.

- So let's talk about security because when I read that spectators weren't going to be there anymore I thought, OK well, at least now the security risks I'm sure are reduced. How are you looking at it and perceiving it? Is the Olympics still something, especially with those spectators not there, still perhaps a target for terrorist actors? Is the Olympics essentially still perhaps threatened at all?

JORDAN STRAUSS: Always. Yeah, Christine, great question, the answer is always. So you can do whatever is possible to reduce the attack surface, to harden your target, to have good intelligence, to have good police work things like that but you can't get it too small. You know, there's only one president of the United States, there's only one prime minister, there's only one CEO, there's only, you know, and there's only one Olympic games. So although the reduction in the number of people makes it perhaps a less attractive soft target, it would make perpetrating an attack more difficult because there are fewer people to target, the fact that it's the thing that everybody in the world is watching means it's always a risk.

And that's why there's such a lengthy and extensive multinational effort, not just by the host country, to do things like information sharing, intelligence sharing, and resource sharing to prepare for these games. And that will have gone on for years prior to 2020 and certainly over the last year. But there's no way of completely eliminating the risk-- just mitigating its impact and preparing for it.

And that's-- that's the one I think key lesson here for the executives in your audience. You know, at the end of this games we want it to be safe, enjoyable for everyone, and hopefully to mark some sort of return to whatever the new normal is. We want to be saying and we want the security professionals working on it to be saying, boy, we prepared too much. That's what you always want to be saying, you know, we overprepared because it's cheaper, easier and safer to overprepare than it is to respond to an emergency.

- So to that point, do you think there's going to be any permanent changes perhaps in the way the Olympics are run or the event is put on or really in the security, the health security and also just, you know, the regular type of security that is put in place for an event like this? Because of the pandemic do you see any kind of permanent changes being made going forward?

JORDAN STRAUSS: Christine, that really, really insightful question. The answer is probably. So the 2022 games are in Beijing. I think the sorts of things that you should look to are the behavior of the sponsors, the behavior of media.

The Olympics are a very expensive endeavor to put on, they do not make money. So you know, the reason you do it is because of diplomacy and national pride to the extent that you can reduce the loss. You're depending very heavily on international sponsors, very heavily on international media. And I think, that we've started to see some large companies make their feelings known about the propriety of hosting these games. It'll be interesting to see what happens in 2022.

Hopefully, by that point our understanding of the virus will have evolved. Hopefully, by that point there will not be new variants. And I think, that you know, we're probably-- given that it's China and they're really good at building things-- you know, far enough in advance here that they can make design changes to things like the Olympic Village to mitigate the spread of diseases, just like large organizations all over the world and particularly, and I know this is true for many of our clients in the United States, are making changes to their office plans and their office environments to try to mitigate the spread of disease. So I think we'll have more of an opportunity there to mitigate.

- All right, we'll have to leave that there. Jordan Strauss, Managing Director in the Business Intelligence and Investigations Practice of Kroll, thanks so much for joining us today.