February 14, 2013

New Cornell Travel Site Targets Safety While Abroad

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Five years ago, a group of students were in Kenya when a civil war broke out.

“[Then] two years ago, we had an issue with the Arab Spring and then that same summer was the Japanese earthquake,”  said Alexis Santi, coordinator of travel safety for Cornell Abroad. “This became a major issue for the University in general. How safe are we? How are we running programs? But also, are we even sure where everybody is? We needed a system with which we could capture all of that.”

The incidents identified a gap in the University’s understanding of who is abroad at any given time, according to Santi.

But it was not until this month that Cornell launched a travel registry designed to increase safety for students, faculty and staff traveling abroad, as well as to serve as a preventative measure against potential high-risk situations. The new system is intended to better equip the University to send resources and aid to Cornell-affiliated individuals who are abroad, particularly in dangerous areas, according to Dean of Students Kent Hubbell ’67.

The new registry provides contact information and itineraries of all individuals affiliated with Cornell who are studying abroad. It also supplies travelers with access to University-approved emergency travel insurance and emergency evacuation if necessary, according to Santi.

Students who are enrolled in Cornell Abroad are automatically included in the registry. Those who organized their trip independently, however, are not included. Santi said he strongly encourages such students, in addition to anyone affiliated with Cornell, to register their international travel.

About 600 students who are currently enrolled in Cornell Abroad are included in the system. But there are an additional 1,000 to 1,500 students who are travelling internationally and not accounted for, according to Santi. Since the system’s launch earlier this month, more than 50 new students have  registered.

In addition to providing insurance and evacuation support, the new program requires that students traveling to high-risk countries receive approval from the International Travel Advisory and Response Team, a group of university administrators that review and document travel plans. Countries are labeled as “high-risk” if they are on the U.S. Department of State’s travel warning list or if they are just below the travel warning, Hubbell said.

“We need to make sure that travelers are well prepared for any unintended things that may happen in a country where it’s viewed by the state department that it is a risk to travel for Americans,” Hubbell said.

If a student applies to travel to a “high-risk” country that is deemed unsafe for travel, the University can prevent students from receiving Cornell credit for classes taken abroad or cut off funding for their trip.

Santi said the new registry makes it easier for students, faculty and staff to document their travels. Before the new registry, Cornell students were required to submit numerous forms to various offices, depending on the information each college. Now registration has been consolidated to one form, Santi said.

“[The new system] is a way to streamline the old process in which faculty had to create a course offering through the CUAbroad application website. The only drawback I see from the registry is that when students and faculty travel as a group, they aren’t necessarily registering as a group,” said Katie Grandle ’13, who will travel to Israel during spring break in March.

Hubbell also said the new system represents an effort to find a way to ensure the safety and health of those studying abroad.

“Pilots are expected to follow a flight plan so that if something happens, the people assisting you know where you were planning to go and they can find you. [The new registry] is a version of that,” Hubbell said. “It helps us and other family members to feel as though if something happens then there is an opportunity to get help to somebody who might need it.”

Original Author: Alexa Davis