On November 23, 2015 the U.S. State Department issued a worldwide travel alert cautioning U.S. citizens of possible risks of travel due to increased terrorist threats. Clearly, there are far more travel risks now than ever before. Many students will still choose to study abroad during their college years, so it’s important for their institutions to proactively prepare them for this new world. Are your students prepared? Check out our advice from our Chief Security Officer, Jim Hutton, to see how your institution stacks up:
Inform Your Students: Every student should be educated on the potential risks in their study abroad locations along with advice for preventing or reducing issues related to these risks. Administrators should research the concerns associated with each destination and provide a detailed assessment to students, faculty leaders and their parents prior to their trips (the U.S. State Department, CDC, the WHO and your travel risk management provider are great places to start). An assessment of the location should be done every six months to one year, if possible. If there’s an active terror threat in the location your students wish to study, do your due diligence, know your institution’s travel warning policy, and confirm that it’s wise for students to travel there.
Do an Emergency Audit: Whenever possible, assign a member of your crisis response team to visit the location ahead of time to perform a comprehensive safety audit. This team member should review the campus and assess potential risks along with available resources. For example: how far away is the closest police station? Where is the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate located? Do local enforcement personnel speak English? Following this review, figure out which resources are available to your students in the event of an emergency. Where is the nearest English-speaking hospital? Is there a credible ground transportation provider to get students out of an emergency situation? What is your crisis response plan, including evacuation resources in the event of a medical emergency or a natural disaster? How will you safely and efficiently evacuate travelers if there is political unrest? Many institutions use a travel risk management provider to not only help them answer these tough questions, but to devise an action plan accordingly.
Know Where Your Students Are: Although your students are adults and are technically free to do as they please when not in class, explain the importance of how making safe decisions abroad is vital to their health, safety and academic success. If students are planning to explore other parts of the city or spend the weekend away from campus, encourage communication with local faculty leaders and/or designated administrative staff regarding travel plans and locations. If students will be drinking, they should be aware of public transportation routes and safe ways to get back to campus. Students should not feel restricted by this, but instead be reminded of safety precautions and the importance of a program leader knowing where they are at all times.
Know Who to Call: If an emergency strikes, do students know where to go and whom to contact for help? Make sure every student is aware of the members on your crisis response team. Advise them to program these numbers into their phones as well as local emergency numbers and the number to your travel risk management provider. You should also discuss the best way for students to check in after a crisis so you can confirm their safety. For example, is phone or email better? Do you have a dedicated Facebook group where students can “check-in?” Decide the best modes of communication for your institution so you can make sure all of your students are accounted for.
Keep Reputation Top of Mind: How you protect, or fail to protect, your students can have lasting consequences—remember: your institution’s duty of care responsibilities don’t disappear across international borders. Your ability to protect students’ health and safety reflects on your institution regardless of whether an incident occurs during study time or recreation. Having safety measures in place and discussing these important issues with your students prior to them traveling abroad will help ensure that you’re not only protecting your students, but also you institution’s reputation should your resources and crisis response capabilities come into question.
To learn more about how to keep your students safe while studying abroad, contact us today.