Magazine article Risk Management

Protecting Students Abroad from Ebola

Magazine article Risk Management

Protecting Students Abroad from Ebola

Article excerpt

As senior director of insurance and risk management at New York University, Michael Liebowitz is constantly scanning the horizon to make sure students and staff stay safe. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa is a threat he now must evaluate every day.

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that, as of Sept. 9, the disease had claimed more than 1,300 lives and infected more than 4,2.00 people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. It is not yet considered a threat to the West, however, and international authorities and risk managers like Liebowitz aim keep it that way.

International travel is attractive to many college students, especially those who want to do humanitarian work or study abroad. NYU even gets grants for social services outreach in African countries. In addition, the university has a study-abroad campus in Ghana, but due to the Ebola threat, it decided to shut it down for the fall semester.

"We had our evacuation contractor talk with charter companies and they will not fly in there," Liebowitz said. "When you add that to the loose border control issues, the question is, what kind of academic experience will that create for our students who go there? We want our students to have a fulfilling, safe international experience."

This goal is further complicated by the fact that running water may be scarce and that latex gloves, masks and other disposable protective equipment are already hard to come by.

"When the outbreak exploded, I took a look at my travel management system and we made the decision to pull out everyone who was there," he said. "Four people were doing research in Sierra Leone and Nigeria. Even then, I had to wait three days to get them open seats on a flight."

One of the evacuees told Liebowitz that, when they returned to the United States through JFK Airport, they had to go through several levels of health screening, were asked who they were in contact with, where they were geographically and had their vital signs checked.

Liebowitz has also evacuated students and staff from other volatile situations, most recently from Israel and, in late zoio, from Egypt during the Arab Spring.

"We take the tack here at NYU to get our people out early," he said. "What is the worst they can say if they are taken out early? These decisions can't be based on cost--lives have to be placed ahead of money."

Nevertheless, students and employees sometimes have their sights set on travelling abroad and do not always see the danger. Currently, several students and staff members are planning to make trips to potential hotspots in January. "I can only tell them that I know what is happening today, but that things change and they change quickly," he said. "It could get worse or better. …

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