Key aspects of emergency planning for acute crises

Key aspects of emergency planning for acute crises

The work done by international educators is deeply impacted by the risk of emergencies abroad and at home. These issues affect students and scholars in at-risk situations, but also the kind of preparation required by sending and hosting institutions. The upcoming issue of Forum magazine, currently in production, will look at how our conflicted world intersects with internationalisation as a whole (Stay tuned!). In this blog post, the author outlines some of the key aspects that should be considered when setting up a relevant, safety conscious plan for acute crises.

Incidents involving exchange students have been on the news a lot lately. There was the bus crash in Spain that killed Erasmus exchange students. There have been universities considering cancelling participation in exchange programmes in countries where terrorists have struck – France, Belgium, Turkey, etc. We all heard about the death of the Italian graduate student doing research on Egyptian labour unions whose body was found with signs of torture on his body, followed by the fatal stabbing of an American graduate student in Israel. Safety has become a huge issue for study abroad programmes – perhaps even more so for parents than students.

Working on protocols

As international educators, our duty is to help our students understand the risks and emphasise the importance of remaining alert to their immediate surroundings at all times. It is equally important, though, for us to study risks involved with study and research in another country. The risks need to be evaluated by type, frequency and impact. Educational institutions have different tolerance levels for risk and so do our students. We all know that students are more likely to die of motor vehicle accidents or poorly managed pre-existing conditions than they are of terrorism. That does not mean that we neglect crisis management planning for terrorism, but it just means that we need to really work on our emergency protocols.

Preparing for the unexpected

Obviously, some risks we can mitigate by doing due diligence, but others cannot be anticipated. Terrorism is one of those risks that we cannot predict but we can plan how to react to it in the immediate aftermath. Nowadays, overwhelming numbers of students travel with their mobile phones and use e-mail, Facebook, Twitter or other forms of social media to stay in contact with family and friends. Our crisis management protocols should insist that we be able to establish contact with students as soon as possible after an incident.

Precautions you can take

Having students register with the embassy or consulate in the country where they are studying provides the home institution with a way to obtain official help in case students do not respond to repeated efforts to contact them. An additional safeguard is to have students covered by an emergency evacuation provider. These providers of emergency assistance have on-the-ground staff who can provide updates but who also have the local contacts necessary to obtain information on the students’ whereabouts. They have access to the medical expertise that might be needed to secure emergency medical help for students, the knowledge of local hospitals best suited to provide top quality care or the ability to organise an emergency evacuation if needed.

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