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Higher Ed’s Duty Of Care Toward Travelers In A Post-Covid World

By News Creatives Authors , in Small Business , at December 3, 2021

Anthony Rotoli is the CEO of Terra Dotta, a leader in global education engagement solutions.

The pandemic and rapidly changing world events have highlighted the need for higher education institutions to more carefully address risk and focus their attention on duty of care toward students, faculty and staff.

While travel restrictions due to Covid-19 put a halt to many study abroad and in-person international opportunities, the availability of vaccines and new health and safety protocols have allowed colleges and universities to resume some in-person programs. The Forum on Education Abroad’s 2021 “State of the Field” update found that of the 216 responding institutions, 44% planned to resume study abroad programs in fall 2021. At my own company, ongoing conversations with institutions indicate widespread plans to resume global programs involving travel.

Where possible, schools are sending students abroad as well as welcoming international students back to campus. But with today’s expanded risk landscape, it’s no longer enough to employ baseline liability mitigation strategies, such as travel insurance and blanket safety protocols. The institution’s duty of care responsibilities require a proactive, individualized and comprehensive approach for the safety of international and domestic travelers alike.

The concept of safety is multi-layered, with both objective and subjective components. What does it really mean to say a location is “safe”? Is it physically safe, with adequate lighting, traffic control and access to basic needs like food, shelter and medical care? Is it politically safe, with a government that respects the rights of individuals, is free from corruption and subscribes to the rule of law? Is it socially safe for everyone based on attitudes toward race, gender and sexual orientation? 

Higher education institutions now have the ability to increase their commitment to duty of care using policies and technology tools that weren’t available even a few years ago. Some best practices include employing:

Mobile Device Alerts

The ubiquity of mobile devices has made it possible for higher ed administrators to send targeted messages to travelers based on their local conditions. A modern alert system goes well beyond pushing SMS messages to phones and eliminates the need to manually determine which travelers might be affected by a dangerous situation. When every second may be critical, such as evacuating from a storm or avoiding unrest, today’s notification systems send messages across multiple channels to the people who need information immediately. These systems further allow for travelers to check in with their institutions to confirm they are safe and receive quick-dial emergency services.

Real-time Safety Awareness

Multiple aspects of safety can now be aggregated and assessed using big data analysis capabilities — down to the neighborhood level in many cases. This information can be made available to travelers through their mobile devices, giving them real-time data about their immediate surroundings. This dynamic location intelligence is harvested from data signals, crowdsource reporting, sentiment analysis, geospatial intelligence, environmental factors and other safety indicators. It also takes into account personal safety for women and LGBTQ+ individuals and day/night differences.

Consistent Safety Metrics

Safety assessments should be based on consistent criteria so that they translate universally around the world and allow travelers to make informed comparisons. Area ratings developed using algorithms that consider hundreds of data points to yield a single numeric value permit a quick understanding of the situation on the ground. 

An Updated Crisis Management Approach

Many colleges and universities already have a crisis management team responsible for creating, testing, implementing, evaluating and adjusting a crisis plan. But does it include representation from all relevant departments with a tie to travel or global impacts? This group should include not only the global programming office but members across the institution, including administrators, medical center staff, insurance representatives, security personnel and legal counsel. This team should meet regularly, evaluate evolving plan needs and practice different elements of the plan to ensure preparedness and efficiency when a real crisis occurs.

Orientation Sessions

Preparation and planning are essential to successful institutional travel to help reduce risk, so both pre-departure and post-arrival orientation sessions are recommended for international travelers. Many students have never traveled outside their home country before and may be unfamiliar with the basics of obtaining documents, arranging for inoculations or even what to pack. Once they arrive, additional on-site orientation sessions can help them get acclimated, understand what to do in case of emergency and reinforce relevant policies.

Today’s higher education institutions have many more resources at their disposal for fulfilling their expanded duty of care obligations to travelers. Big data, artificial intelligence and automation are making it possible to monitor conditions on the ground and communicate critical information to select audiences at the moment when it’s needed. Duty of care has become much larger than a single concept of safety. Rather, today’s institutions must deploy a multifaceted, connected approach to ensure traveler safety domestically and across the globe, alert students to possible threats in real time and empower them to take immediate action if needed. 

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