Danger Ahead!

By Friend, Julie | International Educator, January 1, 2012 | Go to article overview

Danger Ahead!


Friend, Julie, International Educator


When it comes to international programs and risk assessment it's best to be informed of possible hazards and be prepared with an action plan in place.

Given recent political unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, coupled with natural disasters in Japan, New Zealand, and elsewhere, education abroad professionals are appropriately focusing their discussions on crisis management and evacuation. However, any institution or organization seeking a more comprehensive method of evaluating their ability to. respond effectively to a crisis should start with the bigger picture - a strategic risk assessment of their international programs and activities to ensure that emergency plans match their worldwide presence.

As a baseline, it is important to understand your institution's tolerance for risk. Without this information, it is difficult to make policy decisions associated with international travel, whether it's permitting or prohibiting activities in countries with US. Department of State Travel Warnings or mandating international medical insurance coverage. Risk tolerance will vary by institution and will be based on your unique history, culture, and organizational structure.

Take Inventory

The first step of a risk assessment should be to define the scope of your study.

* Will you be assessing risk for only study abroad programs, or all of your institution's international activities involving students?

* Will the data collection be limited to undergraduate or graduate students?

* Will it include faculty conducting research or working on development projects, or staff on recruitment or fundraising activities?

Once you have defined your scope, note the type, duration, and location (city) of the activity on a chart or spreadsheet.

The type of activity is important because different activities pose different levels of risk. For example, faculty-led education abroad programs generally pose higher risks to institutions - even though they tend to operate over shorter periods of time than direct enrollment programs- because program leaders are generally ill-equipped to prepare for, or respond to, emergencies. While there may be no "home campus" staff on a direct enrollment or third-party provider program, such operations usually have a full contingent of support staff and student services (such as a health clinic and campus security force) who are ready to respond to a variety of emergencies, particularly regarding natural disasters common to the region. Internship or service-learning projects can vary in risk depending on the degree of supervision as well as the activity involved (such as laboratory settings with volatile chemicals or rural teaching internships in developing countries).

In addition, short-term recruitment trips to overseas campuses or fundraising activities in capital cities may expose travelers to petty crime or nonlife- threatening-health conditions such as travelers' diarrhea, but the limited duration suggests the risk of experiencing more serious problems is relatively low. Long-term development projects in extremely rural or high-risk locations, like Somalia or Pakistan, may expose faculty or staff to serious health risks, terrorism, or kidnapping. If1 however, the project is comanaged by local experts, staffed by area residents, and of high value to the community, certain risks are diminished.

Determine Insurance Exclusions

Another important step in a risk assessment is to determine whether or not your institution's insurance carrier restricts or excludes coverage in countries perceived to be of high risk; for example, countries with U.S. Department of State Travel Warnings or countries sanctioned by the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC)1 which enforces economic and trade sanctions based on national security goals and U.S. foreign policy. If your institution or organization sponsors travel in locations with such restrictions or exclusions, you generally have three options: renegotiate your policy wording to broaden coverage, prohibit the travel, or take steps to mitigate risks and be financially and operationally prepared to support travelers in need. …

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