Study Abroad Student Handbook
United States United States
Center for Global Education

Crisis Management

In this section, you will find information on how to better cope during a crisis. Being able to deal well with a crisis situation includes understanding your emotions, keeping yourself as safe as possible, and communicating with your emergency contacts by creating and using your personal Emergency Action Plan (EAP). Please refer to the Emergency Card, and EAP Steps provided for more resources on crisis management and emergency planning.

Most students returning from study abroad say that it was one of the most valuable parts of their college or university experience. However, similar to the realities on a U.S. campus, there may be a few students who encounter a minor or major emergency while abroad in the United States. Many study abroad programs have developed comprehensive support strategies. The first place to start getting information about your program's support strategies is in your study abroad advisor's office in the United States and your program director's office in the United States. We have also provided the following resources: Emergency Card, Personal Emergency Action Plan, Emergency Action Plan Steps, to assist you in being prepared before going and after arriving in the United States.

1. Minor and Major Emergencies

Minor and Major Emergencies

While most students experience a safe and healthy time abroad, some are forced to deal with minor emergencies. However, what students consider a minor emergency here at home can turn into a more difficult to handle situation abroad in the United States. Small emergencies abroad can seem like larger ones due to language and communication barriers, and a lack of familiarity with foreign surroundings. Some of the minor emergencies students have faced abroad in the United States included illnesses like diarrhea and heatstroke, and crimes like petty theft and mugging.

In addition to minor emergencies, some students may also face larger emergencies while in the United States. Frequently, these major emergencies tend to be events out of a student's control. Some unpredictable, major emergencies that could occur abroad include: natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes, acts of terrorism, and serious medical problems.

2. Things To Do Before a Crisis Occurs

  • Emergency Action Plan: The first step in crisis management is being prepared before a crisis occurs. Consider adopting a personal Emergency Action Plan (EAP) for yourself. Essentially, this document describes what actions to take in the event of an emergency. Your EAP could be as simple as a list of people to call in case you are hurt, along with copies of your insurance papers, passport, and names of any medications to which you are allergic. Please see the Emergency Planning section for how to create a personal EAP, and steps to take during an emergency.
    1. Why Create an EAP?

      Minor and Major Emergencies

      The more support networks you have during an emergency or crisis, the more likely someone will be available to help you. Also, the better prepared you are ahead of time, the better chance you have of responding effectively to a crisis in the United States. Therefore, it is important to set–up support networks, and an EAP, before an emergency occurs–before you actually need assistance. Creating an EAP is a good first step towards keeping yourself healthy and safe in the event of an emergency or crisis while in the United States.

    2. Who Needs a Copy of Your EAP?

      We remind you to give copies of your EAP to your contacts in the United States, and leave copies with appropriate contacts at home, which may include several family members and friends. Make sure to always keep a copy on hand for yourself as well. You should consider giving your EAP to the following contacts:

      In Home:

      • Your primary home emergency contact
      • Power of Attorney

      In the United States:

      • Your primary emergency contact (which can be your international student coordinator)
      • Residence Assistant/home-stay family member(s)/roommate(s)
      • Friends or family in the U.S.
      • Yourself
    3. How to Create an EAP

      • Getting to You: Ideally, try to develop detailed written directions so that someone would be able to locate you at your study abroad location in the United States, or travel location(s), in the event of an emergency. You may want to draw visual aids or maps in addition to writing out instructions.
      • Getting Yourself Out: Then, try to develop detailed instructions for yourself, showing possible routes from your place of residence, hotel/hostel, work/internship and/or university/program in the United States to a safe place. You may also want to include other places that you frequent, including shops, restaurants, subway stations, nightclubs, etc. You may want to draw visual aids or include a copy of a map in addition to writing out instructions.
      • Things to Consider: Remember, elevators may not function, and electric doors may not open in the event of an emergency; make sure to map out escape routes in which you take the stairs (or wheelchair ramps) rather than elevators. Consider carrying a small flashlight with you at all times in case the lights go out and you need to find your way through dark hallways or stairwells. Phone lines may also go down, so don't rely on calling someone to come pick you up. Have your Emergency/First Aid Kit available to take with you.
  • Minor and Major EmergenciesInjury: Prior to departure or immediately upon arrival in the United States, you should identify appropriate medical facilities in case of injury abroad. It is important to know whether your travel insurance will pay in advance for care, or whether you will need to apply for reimbursement. In the case of injury, the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs can assist your family in sending you the necessary funds to pay for your medical care. In some instances they can help arrange for your transport and accompaniment back home, although they won't pay for this.
  • Serious Emergencies: Natural disasters, political upheaval, and terrorism are some of the events the U.S. State Department considers to be serious emergencies or crises. When they occur, your university officials will relate a plan of action, which all students should follow as well as additional support information. If you are not sure about the situation, contact your international student coordinator immediately.
  • Death: In the event of your death in the U.S., your institution will locate and inform your next of kin and relay special instructions for the disposition or burial of your remains. Details about the repatriations of your remains may be included in your medical insurance.

3. Who Can Help You?

Who Can Help You
  • What Your U.S. University Can Do:This differs from institution to institution. The staff and administrators of your university/institution can only do so much to ensure your safety. Ultimately, it is your responsibility to keep college or international student services staff well informed of your whereabouts, travel plans, needs, health problems, safety concerns, etc. By telling college or university staff about your needs and activities, you can greatly reduce possible risks to your safety. While you can, and should, always ask your international student services staff for assistance, they might not always be able to help you.
  • Keeping Yourself Safe
  • Keeping Yourself Safe: The student participants themselves can have a major impact on their own health and safety abroad through the decisions they make before and during their study, and by their day-to-day choices and behaviors. Parents, Guardians and Families: Parents, guardians, and families can also play an important role in the health and safety of international students. They are often the major lifeline to home and can help students make decisions, or encourage appropriate behavior while in the U.S. Even though studying in the U.S. is a time of great independence for students, the student's parents, guardians and family members should not be left in the dark about their student's activities. Good Practices for Health and Safety lists six suggestions for parents and guardians. Parents may also want to read the SAFETI Newsletter article "Advice for Parents: Frequently Asked Questions".

4. During and After a Crisis

During and After a Crisis
  • Understanding Your Emotions: In response to a crisis, you may experience the following range of emotions. These feelings are normal responses to a difficult situation:

    Disbelief Fear Anger
    Anxiety/Panic Difficulty concentrating Denial
    Worry/Concern Stress Excitement
    Depression Shock Other
  • Making Yourself Feel Safer: There are some things you can do to calm your emotions and make yourself feel safer in an emergency/crisis situation.

    The following list gives some tips on how to maintain your physical safety and mental health during a crisis:

    • Realize your feelings are normal
    • Find/make a safe environment
    • Maintain a basic self–care regimen (shower, shave, get dresses, exercise, etc.)
    • Avoid confrontation, both physical and verbal
    • Take one step at a time
    • Assess what you can and cannot control
    • Ask for help
    • Create a support network

    IN CASE OF LIFE THREATENING EMERGENCY, YOU CAN DIAL 911 FROM ANY TYPE OF PHONE ANYWHERE IN THE U.S.!!!

    For more information on the Phases of Crisis, please see the SAFETI Adaptation of Peace Corps Resources on Crisis Management.

    The best way to deal with a crisis is to do what you know works for you. While these suggestions may give you an understanding of what happens to you when you encounter a crisis, you are the only person who knows you the best. Find a way to deal with things that suits you the best!

    After you have chosen the university where you will be completing your studies, research the region and the possible weather threats. For example, states in the south and southeast (Louisiana, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, South and North Carolina, etc.) are known to have hurricane threats throughout the year. States in the middle of the country (such as Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, etc.) are known to experience tornadoes. California has struggled with earthquakes, while Colorado in the winter has serious snowstorm warnings. The more educated you are about the place where you will be studying, the better your Emergency plan will be and your chances of having a safe experience increase drastically!

5. Relevant Questions

  • What is your program's Emergency Action Plan (EAP) and what is your personal EAP?
  • Is your EAP up–to–date, and do all of your U.S. and abroad emergency contacts have a copy of your EAP?
  • Can you identify what causes you the most stress about your plans to study abroad and why?
  • What steps can you take to reduce your stress/concerns about study abroad?
  • What are the three main phases of crisis, and what physical and emotional symptoms may result from each phase?
  • What are some emotions you may experience during a crisis?
  • What are some of the active steps you can take to make yourself feel calmer and safer in a crisis?

6. Checklist

  • I am familiar with my program's Emergency Action Plan.
  • I have updated my EAP and given copies of it to all of my U.S. and abroad emergency contacts.
  • In the event of serious injury or death, I have made my wishes clear to family in the U.S., and to my program director abroad.
  • I am aware of what my program, the Embassy and the Consulate can and cannot do to assist me in the event of a crisis.
  • I have been provided with comprehensive information from my program, and I have shared this information with parents/guardians/family members.
  • I have more than one way to keep in touch with home while abroad (i.e. through e–mail, calling card, fax, etc...)
  • I can identify the three phases of crisis, as well as the physical and emotional symptoms that may affect me during each phase.
  • I know which active steps I will take in a crisis in order to make myself feel calmer and safer.
  • I recognize the fact that I may experience emotional side–affects from crisis, and that my emotional responses to crisis are normal.

7. Resources

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