Emergency Response and Preparedness
Emergency Preparedness Certification
Risk management for learning abroad programs has become a major issue for U.S. colleges and universities. In the past 10 years, a national movement has urged universities to ensure that certain infrastructure and training mechanisms are in place to protect students, faculty and staff participating in programs abroad. In response to this call for action, the Office for Global Engagement has developed an Emergency Preparedness Certification program. The program provides training on pre-departure best practices, onsite emergency response, and resources in the event of an emergency.
Required Emergency Preparedness Training
All faculty directors and program assistants are required to complete the Emergency Preparedness Certification Program before leading a program. Additionally, new faculty directors will participate in a round table discussion with the Director for Learning Abroad before departure. To ensure that we continue to be prepared for emergencies, faculty directors who lead programs annually will be required to be recertified every other year. Based on your circumstances, the Director for Learning Abroad will automatically enroll you in this program at the beginning of the school year. Faculty Directors will not receive a travel advance until they complete their training requirements.
Emergency Contact Information
To ensure that we are able to locate you and your group throughout the program, all faculty directors are required to submit Onsite Emergency Contact Information for their program. This information is submitted using an online form.
This information that you submit is not distributed to students. It is kept in the Learning Abroad Office for use in the event of an emergency. You can submit your Onsite Emergency Contact Information by using our online system. Before logging onto the system, you should have the following information available:
- Name and dates of program, plus countries to be visited during program
- Name and e-mail address of all program leaders and assistants
- Program cell phone number- Many faculty directors choose to purchase or rent a cell phone after arriving in the host country. In this case, please submit an alternative cell phone number before departure. After arriving in the host country, you can email the new cell phone number to Dawna Barnes (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we will update our records.
- Copy of the program itinerary (if this information is contained in your syllabus, you can submit a copy of your syllabus in lieu of a special program itinerary)
- Name, address, and phone number of hotel, hostel, residence hall in which faculty and students stay. IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT PHONE NUMBERS: Phone numbers need to be submitted as if you were dialing from the United States. Be careful when cutting and pasting phone numbers from a web site, as the numbers are often provided as if you were dialing from inside the country. Remember that each phone number should include the 011 international dialing code and the country code.
- Check in and check out dates for each location
Risk Management and Health and Safety
Health and safety are the number one priority. Within the context of learning abroad, there are unique conditions, variables, and circumstances that put students, faculty members, and staff members at risk. As an institution, we are responsible for taking all reasonable steps to mitigate risk, promote participant health and safety, and provide a positive learning experience for our students.
Despite our preparations, incidents involving health and safety occur. When these situations arise, they affect individuals, groups, the local community abroad, and our communities here in Utah.
There are five key elements that often determine the outcome of an emergency:
- Mitigation and Prevention
- Follow Up
All five of these elements should be addressed to prevent undue consequents in the host country and here on campus.
Crisis Mitigation and Prevention
The first step in emergency response and preparedness is mitigation and prevention. Mitigation and prevent should be used to lessen the change of an incident occurring and the severity of the incident if it were to occur. If an incident were to occur, advanced planning, monitoring of events, and being familiar with the resources available both in your host country and at the University of Utah will enable to you quickly gather information, make decisions, and respond to issues more appropriately. The following elements are part of the University’s crisis prevention mechanism:
- Safety, security, and health assessments
- Pre-departure / onsite orientations and emergency contact cards
- Monitoring conditions in the host country
- Creating an onsite emergency plan
- International medical and security evacuation insurance
- Faculty and Program Assistant Training
- Learning Abroad, Office of Global Engagement, and UofU policies
- 24/7 emergency phone number
- Required onsite emergency contact information
- Reviewing application information
This assessment is conducted by Learning Abroad and generates recommendations for mitigating risk. Faculty directors are required to adhere to these recommendations. Failure to do so will result in a discontinuation of your program.
Security, Safety, and Health Assessments
Crisis prevention begins with a program proposal. As part of the proposal process, Learning Abroad conducts an International Program Safety & Security Assessment (IPSSA). An IPSSA assesses your program in light of local conditions, program activities, itinerary, logistics, and resources including:
- Public Transportation System & Traffic
- Crime / Kidnapping / Civil Unrest
- Natural Disasters & Emergency Response Teams
- State Department Travel Warnings & Alerts
- Government Structures
- Terrorism / Geopolitics
- Public Safety Services
- Common Illnesses/Diseases
- Resources for Travelers with Pre-existing Conditions
- Access to Health Care
- Food / Water Quality
- Host Country Coordinators
- Program Activities
- Communication Infrastructure
This assessment is conducted by Learning Abroad and generates recommendations for mitigating risk. Faculty directors are required to adhere to these recommendations. Failure to do so will result in a discontinuation of your program.
Student Orientations & Emergency Cards
Leaders should start thinking about health and safety while planning their pre-departure and on-site orientation programs. Student orientation is a critical part of crisis prevention. During the pre-departure online orientation, health and safety is discussed with students. We provide links to U.S. Department of State resources, CDC, other NGOs and reliable sources, CISI insurance, Alert Traveler, and other resources Our office gives students tips for staying safe and also provides information about what to do in the event of an emergency. You can review the health and safety information that we provide to students in the Learning Abroad Handbook.
To help faculty directors prepare for program-specific orientation meetings, we have created general talking points that you can use to discuss safety on your program. Additionally, if a IPSSA has been conducted for your host country, a list of country-specific talking points will be emailed to you. When you meet with your group before departure, take the time to go over both general and country-specific risk talking points. Students who are aware of the risks are more likely to make better, safer decisions onsite.
Upon arriving in the host country, faculty directors need to give students an onsite orientation. This includes a Health and Safety Refresher using the talking points available on our website and the results of your IPSSA assessment. The Learning Abroad Office has also developed emergency cards for faculty directors and students. We recommend that you keep these cards with you at all times. Our office will send you a stack of these cards before departure. We ask that you distribute the student cards during onsite orientation.
Monitoring Conditions in the Host Country
The more you know about the conditions in your host country, the more effective you will be at mitigating risk and preventing a crisis. Be aware of any outbreaks of illness, political events (such as elections or conflict), and possible natural disasters. If you identify a potential issue, contact Learning Abroad to discuss ways that we can mitigate risk during the program.
We also recommend that all faculty members register with the State Department’s STEP program. By registering for the program, you can elect to automatically receive Embassy and Consulate notices for your host country.
Creating an Emergency Plan
Thinking about an emergency plan in advance will reduce confusion during an incident. All faculty directors should create an emergency plan for their program. At a minimum, the plan should include:
- Emergency meeting points
- A communication plan
- An alternative group leader
Begin by establishing emergency meeting points for your program. Each program should identify at least two emergency meeting points. These should be locations that students can meet if there is an emergency. Examples of meeting points include:
Student housing facilities (not necessarily appropriate for homestays)
When establishing a meeting point, make sure that the location is safe after dark and also has an outdoor space for after-hours emergencies. Also remember that public transportation may not be available during an emergency. These locations should be accessible without public transportation.
Next, establish a communication plan. Develop a phone tree and distribute it to all students. Talk about the trip wires and what type of incidents should prompt students to activate the phone tree. Faculty members are required to provide students with a local cell phone upon arrival. Be sure to distribute this information as soon as possible after the program begins. Remember that communication systems may be down in the event of an emergency. Talk about alternatives to phone and internet communication. If an incident has attracted media attention, you should expect to hear from parents and family members. Be prepared to respond to those inquiries or coordinate with Learning Abroad to develop a response.
Finally, you should also identify an alternative leader in the event that you are incapacitated. If you have a program assistant or co-director, one of these individuals should serve in this role. You could also identify an onsite support person (travel agent or colleague) to assist during an emergency. If there are no other alternatives, identify a reliable, mature student who can lead the group if you are unable to do so. Talk to this individual beforehand and make sure that they are comfortable with this responsibility. Ensure that they have all of the important contact information including the 24/7 emergency number for the learning abroad office. Remember that asking a student to serve in this role is a last resort.
If you need to activate your emergency plan, contact Learning Abroad as soon as possible. We can begin taking steps here in the US to help you navigate a continued response.
International Medical and Security Evacuation Insurance
Another key component of prevention is our insurance policy. Details on our insurance policy and insurance registration are found in the Travel Health and Insurance section of the Learning Abroad Handbook. All Faculty Directors and Program Assistants will be enrolled in the University’s international medical and security evacuation insurance. Prior to departure, students, Faculty Directors, and Program Assistants will be registered with CISI by the Office for Global Engagement. You will receive an email when you are registered for insurance. To complete the registration, you will need to log on to the myCISI portal. You should print your ID card and keep it in a safe place. In order to get any support from CISI (emergency or non-emergency), a case needs to be opened. Many travelers do not open up cases when seeking treatment for common ailments. Unless CISI has already made special payment arrangements at a clinic in the program location, you may be required to pay for such visits out-of-pocket and then request reimbursement
If your program visits locations where the quality of health care varies, consider contacting CISI in advance to identify clinics that can treat your students in an emergency. We also recommend making a “practice call” to CISI after you arrive. This ensures that you know how to properly dial the phone number from outside of the United States. This is provided to you before departure. We recommend that you review this information before departure and take the guide with you to the host country.
If you have dependents traveling with you, they are encouraged to purchase a CISI policy or be added to your policy as dependents. Dependents are not automatically registered for the CISI policy and should be registered online by the University employee. You can pay for these charges directly. Please note that the insurance costs for dependents are different than they are for students, Program Assistants, or Faculty Directors.
Additional information about the insurance policy and using the policy in an emergency are found in the Faculty Directors Guide. Contact Parker Pflaum at email@example.com for more information about the CISI insurance policy.
Learning Abroad Policies
Faculty directors should also familiarize themselves with all learning abroad policies before departure. These policies are designed specifically to support faculty who may be struggling with student health, safety, or behavioral issues abroad. Being familiar with these policies will empower you to address difficult situations with confidence. All learning abroad policies can be found in the Learning Abroad Handbook. In particular, we recommend that you review the section on Student Conduct.
24/7 Emergency Phone Number
In cases of emergencies abroad, faculty directors should contact the local emergency services number in your host country (International 911 Numbers) for immediate support.
Individuals on University-related travel who require additional assistance abroad should contact the University international assistance provider (CISI/Team-Assist) at +1 312 935 1703 or (855) 327-1411 (or via email firstname.lastname@example.org or the MyCISI app). CISI/Team-Assist accepts collect calls, and is available 24/7 to assist with overseas medical, security or legal emergencies.
A student’s first point of contact in the event of an emergency should be local emergency services, CISI/Team-Assist, the faculty director, program assistant, or other onsite personnel, but we are available to help if these contacts are not accessible. The 24/7 emergency hotline for Learning Abroad is 801-585-2677. When you call this number, you will be connected with the University Police. University Police will connect you with the on-call staff member in Learning Abroad. The U’s Global Risk Manager can be reached directly at EmergencyAbroad@utah.edu. This is an email address and not monitored 24/7.
Reviewing Application Information
Before departure, Learning Abroad will work with faculty to review all of the information that students submitted in the online application. Be sure to read through the health form and ask any questions that you might have. Learning Abroad will provide faculty with a copy of student health information as well as the student’s emergency contact information, so that it is available to you in the event of an emergency.
All Faculty Directors are required to have a cell phone onsite. This phone must meet the following criteria:
- The number must be distributed to all group members for emergency use.
- You must be able to use the phone in the host country.
- The number must be provided to Learning Abroad.
- The phone must be able to make and receive international phone calls.
- In some destinations, you may be required to provide a satellite phone.
There are many ways to obtain cell service abroad. Options for International Cell Phones:
- Find your own provider through on-site contacts or on the Web.
- Add international service to your personal cell phone for the times and locations that you are abroad.
- Rent or purchase a phone upon arrival.
Learning Abroad can include funds for business-related calls in the program budget. Personal calls made on the phone will be the responsibility of the user. You must provide Learning Abroad with at least one cell phone number prior to departure. Faculty and Learning Abroad will also coordinate a group chat on WhatsApp, Discord, or similar app, for pre-departure and in-country use. Details on submitting program emergency contact information are found in your online Facilitator Application.
Communication during a Crisis
The second fundamental element of successful crisis management is communication. Clear, consistent communication can mean the difference between satisfactorily resolving an issue and unnecessary problems during a learning abroad program.
While a crisis might seem localized when it is occurring, modern technology allows news of an event spreads quickly, and crises abroad often impact many offices on campus as well. If there is an emergency abroad, CONTACT LEARNING ABROAD IMMEDIATELY. There are several reasons to contact our office.
- We can help you. Faculty directors do not have to handle emergencies alone! Our staff is highly experienced in crisis management abroad. We can provide insights into how best to respond to the situation as well as resources for handling the situation appropriately and on campus follow up upon return.
- We can coordinate with other offices on campus and the State Department. It is not uncommon for a crisis abroad to require action from many offices on campus. This includes Office of Global Engagement, U Public Safety, Risk Management, Disability Services Center, the President’s Office, University Counsel, the Dean of Students, the Counsel Center, Marketing and Communications, and much more. Our office can facilitate support from these entities on your behalf. Additionally, we can assist you by contacting the U.S. State Department when appropriate.
- Parents and family members will contact our office. It is not uncommon for family members to call our office directly. If we are not aware of a situation abroad, we cannot respond effectively to inquiries from the local community.
All faculty directors are required to have a cell phone in the host country. Details on the requirements for this phone are provided in the Cell Phone Policy. Additionally, faculty directors should inquire about the emergency phone number in the host country. 9-1-1 is not a universal number! A list of 9-1-1 equivalencies can be found online.
When communicating with family members during a crisis, remember that all students are protected by FERPA and HIPPA. We cannot disclose protected information to anyone other than the emergency contacts listed in a student’s application. Also remember that we are required to protect a student’s information from other program participants, the press, and others who might inquire about the situation. When providing information about a student, it absolutely must be given out on a “need to know” basis.
Follow-up communication between our office and program directors will occur primarily via email (provided that Internet access is still available on site). Therefore, it is critical that program leaders regularly check their email accounts for updates and instructions.
When an emergency occurs, it is important to respond effectively. Crisis response for learning abroad programs is complicated. Your actual onsite response is often determined by the immediate needs of students and the conditions in the host country. However, Learning Abroad has developed the following acronym for faculty directors: RESPOND. Thinking through this acronym will help you frame the situation and determine your immediate response.
Remember: You will need to adjust these steps and your actions
based on the situation!
Remain calmDon’t panic! Your response will directly impact the reaction of your students. If something happens, take a deep breath and remain calm.
Evaluate the situationLook around. What is happening? Why is it happening? Where is the threat? Take a moment to assess the situation so that you can take action to protect your group.
Secure the group and help the injuredNow that you’ve evaluated the situation, act. Is the group safe where they are? Do they need to move to a different area? Should you activate the phone tree or instruct students to go to the emergency meeting points? Does anyone need medical attention? Remember: your first responsibility is to the group. Your second responsibility is to individuals.
Phone CISI & the Learning Abroad OfficeIf it is a medical emergency, contact local emergency services and/or CISI at 312-935-1703 (from outside of the U.S.) or 855-327-1411 (from inside the U.S.). They can give you instructions on how to respond in many cases. If the incident requires medical care, they can find the closest facility and give you the address. Call the Learning Abroad Emergency Hotline. Our staff can provide additional support and coordination.
Organize the response stepsCollect your thoughts. Have you been given instructions by local authorities, CISI, or Learning Abroad? What steps do you and the students need to take at this point? Communicate these steps to the students and then organize the implementation of those steps.
Note situational changesLocal conditions may change quickly. Monitor the situation through news and other resources so that you are aware of any changes that might affect your response to the situation.
Deliver further instructions to the groupIf further action steps are needed, communicate the instructions to your group and organize the follow up. This should continue until the situation is resolved.
We have also created an acronym for students: DANGER. To view the student acronym in detail, visit the In Case of an Emergency section in the Learning Abroad Handbook.
In an emergency, your first responsibility is to take steps to ensure the safety of program participants. If your group was not together at the time of the incident, make sure that you can account for all of your students and confirm that they are safe. If you have a student who is not able to go with the group as they carry out your action plan, leave the student with a U of U-appointed liaison to assist with the situation. Notify our office of the situation and tell us who is providing assistance. We will need to have a record of contact information for the appointed individual.
If a student needs immediate medical attention, seek out the nearest health care facility. If you have the option of contacting CISI first, they can help you coordinate the necessary arrangements including the payment of fees on behalf of the student.
Contact Learning Abroad to report the incident. Unless the student's situation is life threatening, do not make contact with the student's emergency contacts without their permission. If the situation is life threatening, reach out the emergency contacts that the student listed in their Learning Abroad application (Terra Dotta)
Unless you are legally licensed to provide medical care, you are not authorized to provide medical treatment or administer medication to students while abroad.
If foreigners in general or U.S. citizens are being targeted, tell students to keep a low profile and not to travel in large groups. They should avoid demonstrations and areas where foreigners or Americans are known to congregate. They should not wear any clothing that identifies them as a foreigner (for example, a University of Utah t-shirt) and should remove any signs or symbols that would label them as Americans.
If the situation lasts more than a few hours, you may wish to have a pre-arranged plan requiring that all students return to their residences during such a crisis. Students should remain in the housing facility until they are given further instructions.
The fourth element of crisis management is coordination. While a situation may seem localized at the time, there is often a ripple effect that impacts other entities including offices at the University and the Salt Lake City community.
When you contact our office, we will begin coordinating with on campus authorities including Risk Management, U Public Safety, Disability Services Center, University Counsel, the Office for Global Engagement, the President’s Office, the Dean of Students, and the Counseling Center. We will also work with Marketing and Communications to address any media inquiries. Also be aware that you may need to coordinate action steps with your onsite partners, medical facilities, and the Embassy. Be sure to keep Learning Abroad informed about the status of the situation so that we can effectively coordinate a response.
The final element of crisis management is follow up. While it is tempting to put a crisis behind you when you return to campus, appropriate follow up is very important. Evaluating the situation will enable us to learn from your experience and take preventative measures to avoid the situation in the future. It will also ensure that we provide the appropriate support services to students affected by the incident and follow up on any disciplinary infractions that occur overseas. Your Learning Abroad Coordinator will contact you to schedule a follow up meeting and go over the situation when you return to campus.
Special Safety Considerations for Learning Abroad
Transportation and vehicle safety
Traffic accidents are the leading cause of injury to Americans abroad. The University does not recommend that any faculty, staff or students drive abroad. Many of the risks of driving in the United States are exacerbated abroad through poor road conditions, different laws, unique traffic patterns, and unsafe vehicle standards. The World Health Organization and the Center for Disease Control maintain records and statistics on traffic accidents abroad. A country profile is also available. We strongly encourage you to be familiar with the information about your host country and talk with students about transportation safety in onsite orientation.
Faculty directors should understand local taxi, cabs, and ride-sharing options to choose the appropriate and least risk options. Faculty directors should not drive students in the host country. The U’s insurance policies may not cover you in the event of an accident. For more information on the U’s Auto Insurance Provisions and Foreign Travel, visit the Office of Risk and Insurance Management website.
If group travel is to be conducted, travel should be through a reputable company that has a record of good performance. Learning Abroad can assist you in finding references for transportation companies in the host country. Always request a vehicle with seatbelts. Faculty should also ensure that any transportation providers in the host country have insurance. We recommend that you map out your routes in advance to avoid delays and/or ensure that road conditions are adequate. Do not agree to take side trips that are unplanned or into areas that you are unfamiliar with. Drivers should be instructed not to pick up additional riders and all passengers should wear seatbelts if they are available.
NO GROUP TRAVEL SHOULD TAKE PLACE AFTER DARK. The risk of accidents increases substantially after dark. Plan your program itinerary and budget so that groups do not travel after dark.
Never use group transportation that you are not comfortable with! If a driver or vehicle that you have contracted with is not acceptable upon arrival, try to find alternative transportation. In the event that advance arrangements are not possible and group transportation needs to be arranged quickly, try to identify a vehicle that has been well maintained. Request to see the driver's license and a certificate or statement as evidence of insurance coverage.
If a student does not show up for their program, contact the Learning Abroad Office IMMEDIATELY. Our office will follow up with the student’s emergency contacts to verify his/her whereabouts.
Culture shock can have a dramatic effect on a student’s behavior. As culture shock impacts behavior, it can also create health and safety issues. The excitement of the new environment may make students feel invincible or, as they become more familiar with the host country, they may become complacent about safety. In either case, culture shock can impact a student’s decision-making abilities and, if not addressed, it can create safety and health hazards for individuals, the group, and the local community.
Remember that students may not recognize culture shock, and you may need to help them identify the problem and brainstorm solutions. Information on culture shock, preparing for culture shock and coping strategies can be found in the Learning Abroad Handbook.
Housing representatives and host families will expect you to share the responsibility for informing students of host housing rules, encouraging students to abide by these expectations, and mediating any conflicts that arise.
To prevent problems after arrival, clearly communicate the housing options before departure and again during the on-site orientation once the program has started. Talk about any differences in facilities, curfews, costs, and inclusions. If a student is dissatisfied with the housing after arrival, try to find alternatives. DO NOT PROMISE THE STUDENT A REFUND OF THE HOUSING COSTS. The circumstances related to the move will determine if the student is eligible for a refund. Students are not permitted to change housing without notifying you. Information about housing is discussed in the Learning Abroad Handbook.
In the event of a severe infraction of housing regulations, Learning Abroad in consultation with you and local representatives, will determine whether or not the student should be expelled from the housing facility and/or face other consequences. Review the information in Addressing Behavioral Issues for procedural guidelines for issuing warnings or dismissing a student from the program.
Mental Health Conditions
The number of students with mental health conditions that participate in learning abroad programs is on the rise. Most students with mental health conditions successfully learn abroad without incident, but faculty directors should be sensitive to the unique aspects of mental health conditions. In addition, new mental health issues can arise due to the stress of studying abroad, or existing conditions can be exacerbated.
We encourage all students to disclose pre-existing health conditions in the post-acceptance steps of the application. This includes mental and emotional health conditions. Due to cultural stigmas associated with mental and emotional health conditions, it is not uncommon for students to exclude this information from their health form. For that reason, it is important that you establish a high level of rapport with your students before departure. This builds trust and allows them to feel less threatened by being honest on their health forms. It also allows you to make any accommodations that they may need in advance.
If you have issues with a student after arriving onsite, and you believe that there may be a mental health condition involved, do not independently diagnose the student. Focus on addressing the specific behaviors that disruptive or harmful and how those behaviors impact the learning environment. Speak to the student about your concerns in private. Be sure to listen carefully and show concern. Try not to be overcritical or sound judgmental as that may alienate the student and exacerbate the problem. Suggest visiting a counseling center and discuss this with the student. You can also reach out to Learning Abroad. CISI can also provide a referral to an onsite counselor in many cases. If you consider the situation to be an emergency, call the local emergency facilities and stay with the student. If the student seeks treatment abroad, inquire as to whether or not he/she went to the appointment and how he/she felt about the session. Be considerate when asking and do this in a private or discrete way to avoid making the student uncomfortable.
Experts indicate that it is best to remain in your host country during an emergency. However, we will work with CISI to determine if an evacuation is appropriate. ALL EVACUATIONS—GENERAL AND MEDICAL—MUST BE COORDINATED BY CISI. THEY WILL NOT REIMBURSE ANY STUDENTS, FACULTY OR STAFF FOR EVACUATIONS THAT THEY DO NOT COORDINATE. An evacuation plan would be transmitted to you in confidence, and we will continue to work closely with you throughout the process.
Please click the following button to submit an incident report
Faculty Handbook Contents
- Learning Abroad Advantage
- Getting Started
- Academic Coordination
- Addressing Behavioral Problems
- Emergency Preparedness
- Faculty Training and Expectations
- Program Assistants
- Personal Travel Arrangements
- Program Logistics
- Reviewing Applications and Monitoring Enrollment
- Student Preparation and Orientation