Crafting better crisis management strategies

Crafting better crisis management strategies

Since the tragic terrorist attacks in Paris last November, many higher education international offices, faculty, students and parents have been concerned about study abroad. While several crisis management policies and procedures address how to handle student and faculty behavioural issues, currency devaluations, strikes, etc, few have expressly addressed preparing for or responding to terrorist attacks. If you have not revised your current plan or yet established one, now may be the time to sit down with your crisis management committee and consider what your institutional response should be.

International educators around the globe seem to be in sync about the fact that everyone – administrators, faculty, students, parents, providers, etc – need to be educated on how to act and should not be intimidated by fear. Informed decision making is critical for developing crisis management plans. Networking with colleagues, both national and international, is an important part of the thought process that will help you either develop or revise your crisis management plan. It is high time to engage your institution’s upper administration in a dialogue about their risk tolerance. Keeping them informed of your crisis management plan is crucial so that there is a unified institutional position – especially as parents or the press are likely to contact them as well. When different positions are offered, they can complicate the situation further.

Fact-based policies

Given the immediate reactions to attacks, the first question international educators ask themselves is ‘Should I cancel the programme?’ The next question then becomes ‘Do I have a cancellation policy in place?’ followed by ‘Do I have a refund policy?’ These are also the first queries that students and parents will have. If you do not yet have these policies in place, I think that now is the time to draw them up. Check with the embassy located in the country where you are sending students to obtain a specialist safety assessment. It is critical not to cancel a programme as a gut reaction.

Remember that in New York, after 11 September 2001, the city and its international exchanges bounced back just as the ones in Paris will. These types of attacks are truly unfortunate and frightening, but do not necessarily mean that they might reoccur in the same place. With the rise of violence around the world, we are all at a possible risk as we do our daily shopping, use public transportation, and frequent restaurants and theatres. This should not be a reason to decide to stay at home. We must decide if we want to cancel international programmes or change study abroad sites by taking all known facts into consideration.

Developing a back up plan

We should develop back up plans or alternatives to study sites and itineraries. Such back up plans should, of course, be shared with faculty and students. If you have a 24/7 emergency assistance provider, make sure to publicise it on your website, brochures and handbooks. This can be very reassuring, even when the situation is a developing scenario and not all facts are known.

Teachable moments

These are teachable moments because we can engage students in the discussions about their own safety, in particular as they sometimes rush into situations without assessing them carefully enough. It also helps to show students the importance of not waiting until the last minute to handle visa applications, since processes are now much lengthier than in the past. Procrastination frequently prohibits them from getting embassy interviews in time to process their visa before their scheduled departure date.

I welcome your questions and concerns as we in the field of internationalisation continue to face challenges in safely having our students return from study in another country.

Regine is CEO and Head Consultant at International Education Consulting, USA.