One of the many responsibilities of the faculty director is to handle any emergencies or crises that may affect program students and faculty while the program is in session. This section will assist you in understanding what constitutes an emergency in the terms of a study abroad program and will explain what your responsibilities are in the face of one. It will also introduce specific emergencies and outline the procedures you should follow if one of them occurs.
The word “emergency” is quite broad in meaning. It can include any number of potential situations - illness, injury, crime, natural disaster, or political upheaval - and it can involve any number of individuals. The first actions taken in response to an emergency and the alacrity of the response determine whether the situation is contained or if it worsens.
The Study Abroad office defines an emergency in relation to a study abroad program as the following:
Prior to departure, Study Abroad routinely gathers information from students to keep on file in the event of an emergency situation. This includes information about who to contact in the event of an emergency, flight itinerary, and medical insurance policy information. All students on University of Iowa study abroad programs are required to demonstrate sufficient coverage for the duration of the program. While we do not currently require or encourage any particular policy, we provide students with information about obtaining coverage prior to departure.
Students on the program and Study Abroad staff should know how to reach you at all times during the program. Some programs will provide cell phones for students when feasible. It is extremely helpful if students carry emergency contact information with them at all times. If all emergency contact information is not available prior to departure (for example, if you are activating a cell phone to carry with you upon arrival and can not know the number in advance) you should provide this information to students and Study Abroad staff as soon as possible. You may want to create wallet-sized cards for your students with emergency contact information, or ask students to create their own during in-country program orientation. Aside from your own in-country contact information, other useful numbers for students to keep with them at all times are: the main Study Abroad number and the Study Abroad emergency cell phone number; the number for an alternate contact person in-country in the event that a student needs help and you can not be reached; the number (and address) of the student’s host family, if applicable; and the number of a reliable and secure radio taxi service.
It is helpful to have the following information from you and any other faculty or staff traveling with you prior to departure: your own flight itinerary and emergency contact information, a copy of your passport, and information about how to contact you and the group at any given time during the program.
Before a program starts, information gathered from students, faculty and staff participating will be used by Study Abroad to register the program dates and location(s) with the US State Department. This will allow the group to be notified if the US embassy in your host country reports any changes in local conditions deemed to present a potential threat to US citizens abroad.
As Director, you have the duty to fulfill the following responsibilities in the face of an emergency:
Many emergencies or crises affecting study abroad programs can be properly addressed by the Director and Study Abroad. Proper communication between these two parties, along with consultation with any appropriate UI office, can usually lead to the resolution of the problem. However, should a serious injury, death or emergency take place while the program is in session, a task force composed of staff from Study Abroad, the Dean of International Programs, the UI Risk Manager, University Counsel, and 1-2 faculty with specialization in the affected region will be formed. (Composition of the task force will vary depending upon the nature of the emergency.) The task force will have the responsibility to develop a plan of action to deal with all aspects of the emergency.
As Director, you should not speak to the media (domestic or international) unless authorized to do so by Study Abroad or the UI Office of University Relations. Whenever possible, statements to the media should be made exclusively through the UI Vice President for University Relations or another designated spokesperson. Adhering to this policy ensures that only one source releases information to the media and limits conflicting or misinformation from being released.
If necessary, the Office of University Relations, in consultation with Study Abroad, the Dean of International Programs, general counsel and the faculty director, will prepare a statement for the press and (depending upon the scope of the incident) set up a system for responding to telephone inquiries.
In emergency situations, parents, immediate family members or friends of students involved may contact you directly. If non-Iowa students are attending your program, representatives from their home campuses may also attempt to contact you directly. As any emergency presents a stressful and potentially confusing situation, you are asked to:
Any new information or changes in the situation should be reported as soon as possible to Study Abroad. Our staff will be available to play a key role in disseminating emergency-related information as necessary. During any emergency, your efforts as the resident director are invaluable, and your time will be best spent focusing on the situation at hand and any steps that can be taken locally to remedy, improve, assess and report the situation.
Before a health emergency presents itself, it is important to first understand how health insurance may (or may not) cover students while abroad and to understand what students learn about preventing or dealing with health problems prior to their departure. Also, there are steps that you should take as faculty director to prepare for any health situation (emergency or otherwise) that might occur.
All UI study abroad program participants are required to have health insurance that provides coverage while they are overseas. Prior to departure, students are provided an information sheet entitled, “Health Insurance Information”. (See Additional Supporting documents Available from the Study Abroad office.) This document assists students in determining whether their current health plan provides sufficient coverage while outside the United States and informs them about supplemental insurance that can be purchased for the duration of their time abroad. (Not all health plans cover out of country treatment or if they do, the coverage is lower than it is in the United States.) After reading this information sheet and confirming their health coverage, students are required to submit the “Statement of Medical Insurance Coverage” form to Study Abroad that informs us of their insurance coverage. Sometimes Health Insurance is included in the program package for students, in that case, the resident director has the responsibility to understand the coverage and procedures for using the insurance, however, it is the individual students who must pay in advance (if required) and file claims.
It is the responsibility of the student to understand his/her health insurance policy. However, you should be aware that most plans require that the student pay up front for all medical expenses incurred while abroad. (Credit cards are invaluable for such situations and students are instructed to bring at least one credit card with them.) The insurance company will then reimburse the student after he/she files a claim. Full time students working towards a degree are eligible to apply for an International Student Identity Card (ISIC), a common supplemental insurance option that provides additional medical coverage along with other benefits.
Each fall and spring, Study Abroad conducts a general pre-departure orientation workshop for University of Iowa students called “TIPS” that covers, among other issues, general health guidelines for studying abroad. At TIPS we discuss health insurance, immunizations, and tips for staying healthy. (Please see the TIPS manual to review this information.) In addition to TIPS, each individual study abroad program usually has a pre-departure meeting that addresses health issues in relation to the specific host country. Both meetings are mandatory for students to attend, though not all of them do so. Students on many larger programs also receive a program specific pre-departure manual that covers health issues. If a student becomes ill while abroad, they are instructed to seek appropriate medical care and to inform the on-site Director.
As the Faculty Director, you are responsible for familiarizing yourself with health facilities in the host city – for example, health services on campus, local doctors, and/or hospitals. In preparation for any emergency, you should locate the office of both a general practitioner and an ob/gyn. Also, you should find a reputable hospital or clinic for emergency situations. If the host country is not English-speaking it is beneficial to locate at least one, if not two, English-speaking physicians. Host institution contacts are often helpful in orienting you to local health resources.
During on-site orientation, distribute a list of the health resources you have located to the students. Review with the students the procedures they should follow if they become sick – inform program staff and seek medical care. Assure them that, if necessary, a member of the program staff will accompany them to the doctor. You should also review any general health precautions (if any) that students should follow while abroad. For example, don’t drink the tap water, don’t eat raw vegetables, etc. If you think important, you can have a local physician speak at orientation about health issues. In some countries, students are able to obtain medications over the counter that in the US would only be available with a prescription. Encourage students to seek medical advice from a doctor rather than taking new medications on their own.
Provide the students with a phone number where they can reach you or another program contact 24 hours a day in the event of serious illness or injury.
If a student informs you that s/he is sick and medical care seems warranted, it is your duty to advise them on how to seek care. You may have reviewed these details with them during orientation, but it is wise to reiterate it. Some students may need a little encouragement or pushing to see a physician while abroad.
During the course of the program, it is likely that at least several of the students will become ill. The most common health problems are not likely to be serious. Rather, they will be respiratory ailments or gastrointestinal disorders caused by a change in diet, drinking water or climate. However, a situation may occur that is much more serious in nature – for example, a student may be involved in a car accident, fall while hiking, contract a serious illness, stop taking medication for a mental health problem, or abuse drugs or alcohol. While these types of situations are not the norm, as Faculty Director, you still need to familiar with the action you should take in case they do occur.
This section will provide procedures you should follow in the case of serious injury or illness, a mental health problem, substance abuse, or death of a student. Please note that it is impossible to provide specific procedures for every possible situation. Use the following procedures as a guide to your response.
Eating disorders are often exacerbated abroad when students do not have as much control over their diet as they typically do at home. The Signs and Symptoms of Eating Disorders that may be recognized by a program director, or by fellow program participants:
If you suspect a program participant has an eating disorder, first contact the Study Abroad office. We will put you in contact with on-campus student health and counseling resources. When working with the student, in a caring and nonjudgmental way, tell the person what you have observed (anorexic or bulimic behavior) and suggest they seek appropriate physical and psychological assessment. If the individual denies there is a problem, consult with Study Abroad to determine what to do next. If you learn that the individual has sought, or agrees to begin treatment, be natural and caring, but do not discuss eating, weight, or appearance. Do not insist that the person eat or change attitudes. In extreme situations, hospitalization may be required. Foreign medical services for eating disorders (especially counseling centers) are often unavailable. Under such circumstances, it may be preferable for the student to return to the U.S. for treatment. Consult with Study Abroad concerning parental involvement.
Sample situations that fall under the category of a serious injury or illness might include:
Your response to a serious accident or injury should be as follows:
Mental health or substance abuse problems can develop into potentially dangerous situations if not addressed appropriately. Behaviors that may be indicative of a mental health or substance abuse problem include:
These behaviors could be indicative of any number of problems, such as clinical depression, an eating disorder, or alcohol or drug abuse. Each mental health case is unique and requires that an appropriate treatment plan be developed in consultation with a mental healthcare professional. If you observe a student with any of the above symptoms/behaviors, take the following actions so that an appropriate treatment plan can be developed.
If a student’s behavior is more extreme than that outlined in the previous section, a more aggressive response is warranted. A student with a more serious psychiatric or substance abuse problem might:
Your response should be as follows:
If the student will voluntarily seek help:
If the student will not voluntarily seek help, but does not appear to be dangerous to him/herself and/or others:
If the student will not voluntarily seek help and appears to be dangerous to him/herself and/or others:
If necessary, and if such procedures exist in the host country, the Faculty Director may petition to have the student involuntarily committed to a hospital. In most circumstances, however, arrangements will be made to have the student sent back to the United States for treatment.
Health emergencies are not the only type of crisis that can affect a study abroad program. Legal emergencies or situations that affect the personal safety of a student and/or involve local law enforcement officials can also take place. For example: a student may be the victim of a crime, be reported missing, or be arrested for committing a crime.
Legal emergencies do not always involve a crime against a student. There are times when a student may be the one who has committed the crime. At TIPS, students are informed that while abroad, they are subject to the laws of the host country. If they are arrested, there is little that the U.S. Embassy or program staff can do to get them out of jail. Prior to departing, all program participants sign a form called “Conditions of Participation”. By signing this form a student affirms the following, “I will observe the laws of the country in which I will be residing and all academic and disciplinary regulations in effect at the host institution.”
As Director, you are responsible with familiarizing yourself with the phone numbers and location of local law enforcement and the U.S. Embassy in the host country and providing those numbers to the students.
During on-site orientation, review general safety precautions with the group. Discuss what areas or neighborhoods of the city are not safe (day and/or night) and review what modes of transportation are the most secure. Remind students that it is always good policy to let someone (a host family member, staff member, or fellow student) know where they will be and when they expect to be back, especially at night. If they are traveling out of town for the night, they must inform program staff where they are going, where they plan to stay, and when they expect to be back. Inform students that if they do not follow this policy and if they are reported missing by a friend or host family, the program has the right to contact their emergency contact person in an attempt to determine their whereabouts. It is also important to talk about particular behaviors that would be normal for them to do in the U.S. (for example: drinking alcohol, going out at night alone, taking a taxi at night), but that might put them at risk in the new culture. Stress that if they are the victim of a crime that they should not hesitate to inform program staff. Provide them with a phone number where they can reach you or another program contact 24 hours a day.
It is also important to again review with the group that they are subject to the laws of the host country. Tell them about any differences between U.S and the host country’s laws of which they should be aware. (Differences in drug laws are especially important.) Explain that there is likely to be little that you can do to assist them if they are arrested. Remind them that if arrested, their emergency contact person may be contacted by Study Abroad or yourself.
This section will outline procedures you should follow in the event of a specific legal emergency – crime against a student, sexual assault against a student, a missing student, and arrest of a student. Please note that no two emergencies are alike. The procedures discussed below should serve as a guide for your response. They may not cover every possible situation or case.
When a student is a victim of a crime, it is most likely to be an incident such as a robbery, assault, or a fight. Sexual assault is covered below. If one of the students on your program is involved in such an incident, follow these procedures.
If a student is the victim of a rape, attempted rape, or other violent sexual assault, follow these procedures:
**The following information is a guideline for encouraging the victim to seek assistance. The text is written as if you are speaking to a person who has been raped.
If a student is reported missing (by a roommate, other program participant, host family or professor, for example), take the following action:
Typical crimes committed by study abroad students include theft, assault or possession of drugs. If a student is arrested, follow these procedures:
Political emergencies (coup d’etat, violence toward Americans, severe rioting, and civil unrest) and natural disasters (earthquake, flood, and typhoons) can also affect study abroad programs. This section of the handbook will outline how you should prepare to handle such an event and specific procedures you should follow should one take place.
Many of the policies and structures that need to be in place to deal with a political emergency or natural disaster are those that ensure the safe running of the program on a daily basis. Below you will find a list of general security precautions that will aid in the handling of a potential crisis.
(adapted from Council on International Education Exchange (CIEE) General Security Precautions to be Taken On Site)
In the event of a political crisis or a natural disaster, take the following action:
Some of the above procedures were adapted from “Special Report: Real and Perceived Emergencies in Study Abroad.” Brenda A. Robinson, California State University. NAFSA Newsletter, November 1990.
The death of a student should be handled in the following manner:
If you are contacted by the media, do not give the name of the student or speak on behalf of UI without the above step being completed. Study Abroad, working with UI’s Office of University Relations, will develop responses to media inquiries and make them available to you. See section on emergency management of this handbook for more details on how to handle media inquiries. Never speak on behalf of the host institution under any circumstance.
UI Study Abroad office
319-335-0353 - during business hours: Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST
319-530-2540 - after business hours and on weekends
UI Office of University Relations
319-335-0557 - during business hours: Monday – Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. CST