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Travel Safety and Emergencies

Crisis Management/Evacuation Plan to Respond to Foreign Travel Emergencies

(taken from material supplied by the U.S. Department of State)

Students traveling abroad will be asked to enroll in STEP (The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program), a free service which allows U.S. citizens and nationals traveling abroad to enroll their trip/study abroad with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Students will be asked to enroll in the program prior to their departure to overseas countries.

Through the STEP program, students will receive important information from the Embassy about safety conditions in their destination country, helping them make informed decisions about their travel plans.

The STEP program will also help the U.S. Embassy contact students in an emergency, whether natural disaster, civil unrest, or family emergency. It will also help family and friends get in touch with students in an emergency.

Role of the Department of State

During a crisis overseas, the Department of State will take action depending on the nature of the crisis. The State Department may only need to provide information on conditions in the country, such as warning about areas of unrest, how and where to seek help, and other useful advice. In more serious situations, the State Department may recommend that U.S. citizens leave the foreign country, and, if commercial transportation is not available, provide departure assistance, as their resources permit.

Departure Assistance

The assistance offered by the State Department depends upon the nature of the crisis. Regularly scheduled commercial flights or transportation are always the best option when local communications and transportation infrastructure are intact and operating normally, even if all U.S. citizens have been advised to leave. The State Department’s efforts are devoted to keeping the local U.S. citizen community informed of developments and travel options.

What happens during an evacuation?

Each evacuation depends on the nature of the crisis. In extreme situations, where local infrastructure is damaged or severely compromised, the State Department works with the host government, other countries, and other U.S. government agencies to arrange chartered or non-commercial transportation for U.S. citizens seeking to depart. This could include transportation by air, land, or sea. While members of the State Department partner closely with the Department of Defense, military options are only used as a last resort. Students abroad should not expect the U.S. military to assist them when a Travel Warning has been issued.

Why don't you use the U.S. military in every evacuation?

While some evacuations involve U.S. military or other U.S. government assets, most rely on commercial transportation and local infrastructure. Any level of departure assistance constitutes an enormous logistical effort.

How can I receive updated information during a crisis?

Students who plan to be overseas for a significant amount of time are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). It is important that students abroad keep their contact information up-to-date so that they or their designated emergency contacts can be notified of developments and provided with valuable information.

Students should also monitor the State Department’s website (travel.state.gov) for updates, as this is the department’s primary tool to disseminate important information during a crisis. Their Facebook and Twitter accounts are also good sources of information. Rest assured that in case of a crisis, members of the department will make use of all available modes of communication to keep students/travelers informed, including the internet, social media, TV, and radio.

How can I provide information about myself or my U.S. citizen friends and loved ones who are affected by a crisis overseas?

The best way to contact the State Department during a major crisis overseas is to use their website (travel.state.gov) to send information about yourself. This information will be added to the database that we use to locate U.S. citizens and offer emergency consular assistance during a crisis. This site should only be used to provide information about U.S. citizens who are in the affected foreign country; we do not collect information on non-U.S. citizens.

If I don't hear from the embassy or I'm not enrolled in STEP, can I call them?

Often embassies and consulates abroad cannot handle the huge volume of calls that follow a major crisis.  Travelers/students are encouraged to make contact by using Task Force Alert, special e-mail addresses established for public inquiries during a crisis, or our U.S.-based telephone number at 1-888-407-4747 (from overseas +1-202-501-4444).

What if I don’t have access to e-mail or phone?

The Internet and cell phone service are sometimes interrupted during a crisis.  Land line phones might also be affected.  In such cases, the State Department will use local television and radio to broadcast emergency information and may also use a system of pre-designated U.S. citizen "wardens" to pass on information to other U.S. citizens in your area.  The State Department also encourage citizens to reach out to family and friends outside the affected area to obtain information and relay messages to and from the task force handling the crisis at the Department of State.  Don't underestimate the power of social media – regularly updating your status through social media sites is an effective way to let your loved ones know how you are doing.

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