The two years leading up to the Olympics and Paralympics Games of Rio de Janeiro in 2016 weren’t looking good, at all. Terrorism was a constant threat, scaring all the Brazilians that have never gone through such risk, and barely new the basics on how to behave in panic situations. Also, the rise of the zika virus, the political crises with president Dilma Rousseff impeachment and the increase of violence in the Rio de Janeiro all contributed to an assumption that everything would go wrong. The competitions would happen in 4 great Olympic poles, each covering huge areas: Deodoro, Maracanã, Barra da Tijuca and Copacabana. Besides that, it would be necessary to ensure the policing of public transports, airports, tourist sites, training centers for delegations, official training camps and accompany the displacement between these places. An operation that demands huge public investment and strategic preparation.
Amid the storm of fear that was forming, SESGE (Extraordinary Secretary of Security for Major Events), began the task of seeking the best solution to ensure the safety of the event. A complex security spectacle, with multiple events happening at the same time and lasting long periods of time only makes the task of keeping everything monitored, detecting threats in real-time even more difficult. Authorities realized that equipping the entire city with cameras would not solve the problem, as the information would be scattered, not giving a full situational awareness of what was happening in the entire city. Among the tools studied by SESGE, one option stood out: monitoring balloons.
One of the biggest differentials of the balloon is the fact of having a privileged view, remaining in the air without the use of fossil fuels and offering a “full screen”; more technically speaking – the ‘situational awareness’ needed, concentrating all the information in one place. For air monitoring of great areas, having only helicopters would make the operation very costly. In this sense, SESGE expressed an interest on balloon surveillance for the Olympics, conducting an electronic trading session to purchase them. Among the participants were suppliers from the USA, France and a single national competitor, ALTAVE – who in the end beat the competition with the best proposal, winning the monitoring contract for RIO2016. After the victory, it was necessary to show that the balloons would be easily operated and that they could resist everything. During the months until the Olympics, 60 Military Police officers and 20 National Force officers were trained to operate four balloons, which would be located at the test sites. Security testing was a prerequisite for validating the product for the Games. “At the request of the Federal Police, the Aeronautics blasted 39 rifle shots. We showed that the balloon would not explode, nor would it collapse [if hit].” Explained Bruno Avena, one of the founders of ALTAVE.
In addition, Avena sees that “Drones, helicopters and airships are in fact complementary technologies. Aerostats have the lowest flight time cost and the highest flight persistence. This makes them ideal for detecting suspicious acts and understanding long-term activities. ” The balloon also helps to inhibit criminal activities, possessing a high level of deterrence power. Temporary solutions, such as flying with a drone or helicopter, give criminals the opportunity to hide and act the moment they step away. With monitoring balloons, the benefit of being fixed when used in combination with other aerial vehicles, is that one can stay put, detect a threat and then trigger a drone or helicopter to better inspect the spot and closely track the alleged target, never loosing the full scope of what is happening.
Four hours of lights, fireworks, choreographies and musical shows that opened the Olympics on the night of August 5 – for the enchantment of the public at Maracanã and the 3.5 billion viewers around the world. Behind the scenes, however, the “biggest security scheme in the country,” was in motion, according to the Brazilian Ministry of Defense. During the lighting of the Olympic flame, 4 balloons with the capacity to capture more than 120 megapixels per frame images – 60 times the full HD resolution or 15 times 4K resolution, at three frames per second, hovered in the air, while at CICC (the Integrated Center of Command and Control at Rio) police officers were looking through a screen of 17 meters wide by 5 meters high. The Olympics began and ended without any major incident: the security operation was considered an absolute success.