UW News

December 1, 2010

New measures introduced to make travel abroad safer for UW community

UW News

The Office of Global Affairs (OGA) is introducing new measures designed to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff who travel abroad on University of Washington related study or business.

Effective in January 2011, all students who participate in programs abroad offered through International Programs & Exchanges (IP&E) will be required to purchase study abroad insurance, which would cover expenses — not just medical emergencies but also evacuation due to medical issues, personal security concerns or natural disasters. The UW has identified a vendor who offers a comprehensive and affordable policy; individuals have the option of requesting to use an alternate vendor, but only if that vendors policy meets the same high standards of coverage. .

This is the first phase of a program that soon will stretch across campus, according to Brent Barker, travel security and information manager.

Global Affairs recently has implemented a 24-hour emergency phone line for international emergencies, 206-632-0153. The line is staffed by the UW Police Department and is intended for use by members of our community, traveling on UW business or study abroad, who are faced with an emergency while overseas.  Calls will be referred to Barker or others on campus best able to help.

Global Affairs also has created an International Travel Registry for participants in all programs operated through IP&E and eventually available to others traveling abroad on UW business.  “It helps facilitate a rapid response in case of an emergency,” Barker says, “by letting us know where people are and how to contact them. Although we do not plan to make enrollment specifically required for all UW personnel, we are confident that most UW travelers will wish to use this service once it is available.”

IP&E provides mandatory pre-departure orientation sessions for all its programs, dealing with issues of culture, safety and security. IP&E Director Peter Moran, Barker and the IP&E staff also offer quarterly workshops for study abroad program directors. In addition, Barker is available for briefings on issues of safety, security and health in specific countries or areas, along with pre-departure updates. He maintains contacts with State Department officials and receives updates on most areas to which UW faculty, staff and student may travel.

“I encourage any member of the UW community traveling abroad for any length of time to register at the U.S. embassy in that country,” he says. “That way, you can receive alerts and early warnings of any possibly dangerous situations.”

All study abroad programs that propose travel to a country on the State Department warning list are reviewed in advance by the International Travel Oversight Committee (ITOC) to assess the relative risk. The presence of a country on this list does not disqualify it for study abroad, but it does receive a higher level of scrutiny.

“The key to staying safe is preparation and information-gathering to minimize risk,” Barker says. The UW is now in the forefront of providing safe and secure study abroad programs: Barker is one of just 10 fulltime travel security officers working at an American university.