Study Abroad and Emergencies

One of the true tests of leadership is the ability to recognize a problem before it becomes an emergency. ~Arnold H. Glasgow


Register with the US Embassy either shortly before or after you arrive in country. This will help you and your family in the event of a personal or national emergency. The Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) of the Bureau of Consular Affairs is responsible for the whereabouts and general welfare of US citizens who are overseas. American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (ACS), is a branch of the OCS that assists Americans with many kinds of medical, financial, and legal emergencies. During business hours, call 1-888-407-4747 or 317-472-2328. For after-hour emergencies, call 202-647-4000.

A crisis is an unstable situation, an immensely stressful event, and/or a traumatic change in someone’s life. A crisis may be an accident, illness, hospitalization, protest/civil unrest, war, earthquake, volcano eruption, military coup, widespread riot, sexual assault, strike, terrorist attack, etc. It may involve you or someone you know. It may stem from a particular area of the world, like an epidemic flu or a natural disaster. It may affect different countries, or it may impact the entire world. While it is impossible to foresee many of the crises we may encounter, it is important to be mindful of the possibilities. Nowadays, what you’d least expect can happen and does.


The way to manage crises in your life is to be informed and ready to respond to a variety of foreseeable emergencies. This is called an Emergency Action Plan (EAP). First, write down your support mechanisms: home, host, health insurance, 24/7 emergency numbers, etc. Record this contact information on a small card that you carry on your person at all times (in your money belt). Second, you should walk through, write down, and memorize the possible scenarios and your pre-planned responses to an (a) medical emergency, (b) political situation, (c) terrorism, (d) natural disaster, (e) legal situation, (f) theft of money or important documents, (g) sexual or other type of assault, and (h) accident-illness-death of people at home.


For example, if you’re a student in Ecuador, then you should be aware of the active volcanoes and how they would impact your city if they were to erupt. You should know what to do in the event of a volcanic eruption, or earthquake, since both are possible in the country. Planning shouldn’t take too much of your time and will help you to be less vulnerable and more capable if happens. Many emergencies require swift response, and in some cases, this response time is a matter of life and death (all the more reason to have an EAP).


Develop awareness. Pay attention to your body. Stay alert to your surroundings. Read the news on a daily basis and know what’s happening in the city, country, and world around you. These things not only increase the odds of your identifying a potential crisis before it hits you, but of possibly terminating it as well. Don’t forget, you can only be aware to the extent of your knowledge. Knowledge is power; so seek it diligently. It reduces fear and builds confidence. It helps us to manage our behavior toward a positive outcome. Know the emergencies that can happen, pay attention to signs and signals, and learn what you should do. Stay calm and RESPOND appropriately, rather than REACT spontaneously.


If there’s an emergency, try very hard to communicate your personal situation to loved ones, as well as to your college or university, so that they know you are okay and in safe hands. If anything newsworthy happens in your host country, then you should quickly get in touch with people at home. When an earthquake hit China, we had a group of students on tour, scheduled to be in Beijing. They did not communicate their safety to anyone at home because they figured that everyone realized they were 960 miles from the epicenter. Meanwhile, frantic parents were calling our office because the media had already announced 10,000 people dead. More communication would have saved a lot worry and concern.


The following resources will help you develop a personalized EAP. Before you write down step by step, and memorize how you would respond to the possible scenarios, ask yourself if your plan is realistic. For example, if your plan relies on the use of telecommunications devices and electricity in the event of an earthquake, then it may not work for you. Your EAP should get you out of danger, help you find people, and help people find you. You should include primary and secondary meeting places, maps, and much more. After you create your EAP, give copies to your contacts at home and abroad.


:: Crisis Awareness and Preparedness

:: Emergency Planning, Study Abroad Handbook

:: Homeland Security

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