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Preparing for and Responding to Crisis Related to Short-Term International Programs

As PD with the responsibility of leading a JMU study abroad program, it is possible that an emergency may occur involving one or more of the students in the group. Students can and do become ill, suffer accidents, are the victims of muggings and assaults, find themselves caught up in potentially violent political situations, fail to return on time to programs at the end of long weekends. While it is of course impossible to plan for all contingencies involving our students abroad, it is essential to follow procedures that will allow for a responsible and levelheaded way when emergencies do arise. Working together need to be able to provide, in a consistent and predictable way, for the safety and well being of our students. We also need to take reasonable and prudent measures to limit the University's legal liabilities.

JMU has, therefore, developed a series of specific procedures designed to safeguard the welfare of program participants, and to protect the University's interests. OIP is responsible for coordinating the University's management of emergencies affecting participants in JMU study abroad programs. The PD will be expected to follow the procedures outlined below, and to be sure to inform the students about these procedures during their on-site orientations.

What is an emergency?
An emergency is any circumstance that poses a genuine risk to, or that has already disturbed, the safety and well-being of program participants. Emergencies will include, though not be confined to, the following types of events and incidents:

  • Physical assault
  • Disappearance or kidnapping of a student
  • Robbery
  • Sexual assault or rape
  • Serious illness, physical or emotional
  • Significant accident and/or injury
  • Hospitalization for any reason
  • Terrorist threat or attack
  • Local political crisis that could affect the students' safety or well-being
  • Arrest or questioning by the police or other security forces
  • Any legal action (lawsuit, deposition, trial, etc.) involving a student

What should be done to prepare for emergencies?

  1. Explain to the students that they are required to inform you about any medical emergency, and that you in turn are required to contact the OIP as soon as possible in order to inform the ED about the emergency. Inform the students that this information will be treated with the strictest confidentiality, and that it will be shared by you and the ED on a "need to know" basis only. Also let them know that if the crisis involving the student is grave enough to jeopardize his or her safety or well-being, the emergency contact they have provided at the time of registration will be informed.

  2. During the orientation on-site, provide all the students with:

    1. the local telephone number(s) the students should use to contact emergency services (i.e. the equivalent of the "911" that we use in the U.S., which provides access to police, fire and emergency medical services);

    2. a written list of reputable local medical clinics or hospitals.

  3. During the on-site orientation: inform the students of the exact location of the U.S. Embassy and highly encourage the students to register with the Embassy. In order to register, they will need all of the information provided on the front page of their passports. Strongly encourage the students to stop in at the Embassy or Consulate before and during their travels away from your site in order to get updated information about each country they plan to visit. Advise the students to avoid travel to or through any location where tensions exist and travel may be dangerous. Experience has shown that students may benefit from a security briefing offered at U.S. Embassies abroad; such briefings assist you in reinforcing your message to the students that travel to dangerous areas should be avoided.

How should you respond to emergencies?

  1. In an emergency, the first responsibility is to safeguard the safety and well-being of program participants. Do whatever is necessary to assure this, whether this means obtaining prompt and appropriate medical attention, Embassy intervention or police protection. The PD will of course be reimbursed for all expenses relating to the management of an emergency.

  2. When all that can be reasonably done to assure the student's welfare, immediately contact the OIP and brief the ED or his/her representative, in a detailed way, about the situation. Please make every effort the reach the ED by telephone, rather than e-mail or fax for the opportunity to fully discuss the situation. The contact numbers are as follows:

      Dr. Lee G. Sternberger, Executive Director
      JMU Office of International Programs Office: 540-568-6419 & 540-568-7002

  3. Notify the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate about the crisis, and follow whatever procedures they may require; if there is a continuing risk to the welfare of the students (during a terrorist threat, for example), ask the appropriate Embassy or Consulate Officer to advise you on a regular basis about the evolution of the crisis, and about how the students should respond. In any other sort of emergency, notify the local police about the situation, if you and the Embassy believe this is appropriate; then follow the procedures the police may require of you or the student.

  4. During an ongoing crisis, keep OIP informed on a regular basis, through telephone, fax, or E-mail messages, about the evolution of the crisis, until it has passed.

  5. In the event of a crisis, it is important that all concerned not overreact or panic: the students are counting on you to help get them through a difficult time. The OIP staff members have experience dealing with crises in the past and are ready to assist you during and after any type of event or incident.

  6. After OIP is informed about an emergency, and after we consult with you and other appropriate individuals on site, we may, depending on the acuteness of the crisis, fax you a description of the course of action that you and the students will need to follow. All program participants will be required to sign a statement acknowledging that they have received, read and understood this response plan; after all of the participants have signed, please fax OIP the signed acknowledgments.

  7. During a political crisis or some other emergency during which foreigners in general or U.S. citizens in general may be at risk, tell the students to keep a low profile. Tell them to avoid demonstrations, confrontations or situations where they could be in danger; to avoid behavior that could call attention to themselves; to avoid locales where foreigners or Americans are known to congregate; and to take down signs, avoid using luggage tags and wearing clothes that would label them as Americans.

  8. It is highly unlikely that participants would need to be evacuated from a site abroad; of the hundreds of U.S. institutions operating programs abroad when the Gulf War broke out, only a handful concluded that events indicated that they should bring their students home. However, JMU would of course bring faculty members and students home if a situation were to deteriorate to the point where the degree of risk to participants was deemed unacceptable. If this unlikely event were to happen, the ED, in consultation with the PD, the U.S. Embassy and State Department, and appropriate individuals on the home campus, would develop an evacuation plan in as much detail as possible. This plan would be transmitted to you in confidence, and we would continue to work closely with you throughout the process.

  9. In the event of a significant crisis, individual students have the option of returning to the U.S. Every reasonable effort will be made to allow them to continue their academic program on campus, and to be housed appropriately as well. Refund policies are outlined in the faculty handbook; withdrawals and grades should conform to JMU policies as well.

Observing the procedures outlined here will help assure that our students will have the unique educational experience abroad that we are hoping to have.

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