Elon plans for study abroad safety and security

Elon’s #1 ranked study abroad program has a robust set of policies, procedures and rapid response systems to protect and support students, faculty and staff during international study experiences.

Global experiences are an integral part of an Elon education, with more than three out of four students participating in study abroad or Study USA programs. This January, more than 900 students accompanied by nearly 100 faculty and staff are participating in dozens of short-term programs across six continents. Another 240 students will study away during the spring semester on affiliate, center and exchange programs, many of which are underway during the month of January.

Traveling abroad is a powerful learning experience, but it also carries the risks inherent in an unpredictable world. With the safety, security and well-being of all program participants as the top priority, Elon’s Isabella Cannon Global Education Center (GEC) has developed robust systems to identify evolving situations around the world, to communicate with program participants and their families, and to assess risk and take action if necessary.

GEC security protocols are both proactive and reactive. The GEC makes every attempt to minimize risk, but also is prepared to respond swiftly when situations arise.

Proactive protocols start with working with trusted partners. All of Elon’s in-country partners have been vetted to meet the university’s high standards for academic quality, student support and risk management and crisis response.

In the case of Winter Term, safety and security policies and protocols are reviewed with all program participants before they leave campus. Program courses typically have two assigned program leaders and follow highly structured itineraries. Along with participants traveling in groups, programs are often supported with local guides who have both language and cultural expertise.

While 24-hour on-call campus support is available year-round, it is especially important during the busy Winter Term. All of Elon’s winter group air travel is supported by Direct Travel, based in Winston-Salem, N.C. This long-time Elon partner has a team of professionals on stand-by throughout the month to help Elon students and families in case of air travel difficulties. This includes a dedicated phone line that serves as a hotline during January specifically for Elon travelers.

The GEC also sets policy around travel restrictions. Elon University’s policy is to prohibit travel to countries assigned a travel advisory level of “4-Do not travel,” by the U.S. Department of State. No appeals or petitions are granted in this case. Travel to countries assigned a travel advisory level of “3-Reconsider travel” can be petitioned by Elon students, faculty or staff. Elon University’s policy prohibits travel to countries assigned a warning level three, “Avoid Essential Travel,” by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Travel to countries assigned this warning level may be petitioned by Elon students, faculty or staff.

While these measures minimize risk, the GEC also has protocols in place for risky situations outside its control. The GEC continually monitors potential situations around the globe using tools such as email updates received twice daily from the U.S. State Department and daily conversations with iNext, an international travel protection provider. The university also taps into information from private risk management organizations such as Drum Cussac and WorldAware.

All Elon travelers are registered for Alert Traveler, a mobile app from international education technology firm Terra Dotta. Elon is a client of Terra Dotta for this risk management feature as well as for application software. The Alert Traveler app provides travelers with real-time alerts about critical events in their vicinity. It also allows the GEC to send check-in requests which allow travelers a simple mode of response. Alert Traveler allows the GEC to better manage risk by alerting its staff to those who may be affected by potential incidents around the world and enabling communication or responsive action when necessary.

The GEC registers all Winter Term study abroad participants in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Plan (STEP) through the U.S. State Department. The program allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trips with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. This allows them to receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in the country, assists the Embassy in contacting the person during incidents such as natural disasters, civil unrest or other emergencies, and helps those at home to connect with their loved ones during an emergency.

The GEC is prepared to modify program activities and itineraries in response to the directives of the U. S. Department of State as well as the university’s trusted partners on the ground. Elon has canceled, evacuated and relocated programs in the past as a result of U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories, or around public health/safety concerns, such as Ebola.

Examples of reasons for escalating a travel advisory have included an election season that is bound to have many strikes, demonstrations, or disturbances; a health alert such as an outbreak of H1N1; or evidence of an elevated risk of terrorist attacks.

For more information about the GEC’s security advice, see the Health and Safety webpage at https://www.elon.edu/u/academics/global-education-center/global-engagement/prepare/health-and-safety/.