Risk is inherent in travel and study abroad. While risk cannot be eliminated, it can be appropriately managed. This page is a resource for program providers, administrators, professors and others traveling with or leading groups abroad.
The materials and suggestions below are offered to the international study abroad community for use under a Creative Commons License. That means you are free to use and modify the materials as appropriate. Where possible please note the origin, but we recognize that a lot of good ideas can — and should — spread naturally. So use these ideas freely, and share them freely.
The focus here is on practical advice, not theory. We are also assuming that you already have your institutional risk management act together, with appropriate oversight, waivers, legal issues, etc., already figured out and implemented.
The following is drawn from our presentation at the Forum on Education Abroad Conference in April 2016, and is mostly bullet points. As we have time we will fill in information with additional explanations where we can!
Key issues in Practical Risk Management
- You already have institutional risk management taken care of — you’re on the same page organizationally
- You have a good program release with appropriate disclosure of actual risks — your legal side is covered
- You have good communication / oversight of institutional and partner programs
What is risk?
- “Risk” the the loosing something of value
- Risk = Probability x Severity x Time
- Hazards are SUBJECTIVE (self) or OBJECTIVE (environment)
- Funnel of decision making: Previous decisions will either OPEN up options or NARROW options — work to keep your options open and be careful of getting pushed down the funnel without realize it.
- Risk can be MANAGED but not ELIMINATED
- Watch out for non-event feedback (just because you got away with it doesn’t mean it is safe!)
What works in the real world
- Study abroad is changing from the “grand tour” origins to more inquiry based learning. This changes the landscape of risk.
- There are LOTS of services and options out there — not all of them work and some of them are a waste of time and money. Be sure to understand what an emergency response service can and cannot do in a real emergency!
- “Retro vetting” — checking on everything you do as you do it and recording it — is a powerful way to record that you are checking on transportation, etc. as you go along. KEEP RECORDS AND WRITE IT DOWN. If you’ve used a bus service for 10 years safely, you need to show you’ve done that and have records or entries in a log to prove it. Keep them simple!
This is becoming a bigger issue and needs to be thoughtfully work through in terms of what you can realistically do as an organization. Think through the following:
- Policies/Essential Eligibility Criteria\On Program
- On Program – Triage
- Serious: Evacuate
- Manageable with assistance
- Home & Local Resources
- Staff training
- Emotional First Aid and CBT
- Evaluate risk realistically — what ACTUALLY happens?
- Create specific checklists and templates for responses and conversations — take good notes
- Assign roles in advance of an emergency
- Be sure other departments are on-board in advance (adminstration, campus police, etc.)
- Document what is important and require it
- Review and update forms/applications/etc. regularly
- Track what you are doing and refer to it
- Don’t collect information you don’t need
- Make sure access is controlled — you have access when you need it, but it is still protected
- Have a written plan
- Practice it
- Revise it
- Document it
- Make sure all the people involved understand it and can implement it
- Good communication and trust with sending institutions
- Link / coordinate paperwork and emergency response
- Appropriate training for staff (TMFR / technical skills, etc.)
- Screen participants once the arrive (intake interview)
- Document appropriately
- Set clear and consistent (and enforceable) policies
- Written protocols for all activities AND briefings
- Local knowledge is critical but can be limited or incorrect
- Work with people with domain knowledge
- Set up training and assessment to mitigate risk
- Don’t get sucked into worse-case scenarios
- Keep records to identify actual issues
- Acknowledge inherent positive student bias to a program but take into account individual bias based on effort
- Work with trusted local experts with solid bi-cultural skills
- What community impact assessment / awareness is there?
- How transparent is the organization/provider/leader?
- What does the Consulate/NGOs/other organizations know?
- How well-connected / fluent / aware?
- Train to an appropriate level
- Don’t carry what you aren’t trained to use
- Have a trusted medical advisor on call
- Have written protocols that everyone knows
- Recon/advance plans for emergencies
Gear (what really works)
- Look to the outdoor industry and expeditions into remote areas
- Delorme InReach Satellite communicators pair with your smart phone and can send/receive messages anywhere in the world — and there is less ambiguity than with voice communication
- Equip students with phone if you can, but make sure the SIM cards work in the country you are in!
- Apps (WhatsApp, Skype, etc.) allow communication over WiFi — but you have to install them first. Get that sorted before you leave.
- Plan on all your gear breaking and what you’ll do if the cell phone networks go down, you loose power, etc. Natural disasters or terrorist attacks will tend to knock out communications first — so prepare for that.