Stanford provides crisis resources 24/7 to international travelers

The university’s International Response Team is poised to provide assistance in the event of major political unrest, natural disaster or other crisis overseas. The Office of International Affairs encourages Stanford travelers to register their plans before they go.

If a natural disaster, infectious disease epidemic or political crisis occurs in a country where Stanford faculty, students, postdocs and staff are doing research, the university’s International Response Team would immediately convene to oversee their safe return.

Over the last two years, the 70-member team has developed a university-wide contingency plan to guide Stanford’s response to significant overseas events, such as earthquakes, pandemic outbreaks or civil war.

Brendan Walsh, director of the Office of International Affairs

Brendan Walsh is director of Stanford’s Office of International Affairs, which offers a checklist for international travelers and resources to provide assistance for medical, security and logistical concerns. (Image credit: Michelle Drewes)

The team is known as International STAT, or iSTAT, and is poised to provide immediate assistance.

Stanford stands ready to respond – by phone, online and even on the ground – to medical, security and logistical questions, concerns and situations, with the assistance of vendors participating in the university’s International Travel Assistance Program.

Those resources are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to members of the Stanford community when they are traveling around the world for study and research.

To make it easier for the university to act quickly to determine if any Stanford travelers need help during events that may jeopardize their safety, security or health, Brendan Walsh, director of Stanford’s Office of International Affairs (OIA), recommends that travelers register their travel plans with the OIA’s Travel Registry.

“We also recommend registering with the U.S. State Department if they’re American citizens, or with the closest embassy or consulate for their country, just so they have access to other resources that may be available to them,” Walsh adds. “The State Department’s Smart Traveler App provides travel alerts.”

So does Stanford’s travel assistance provider, International SOS.

In addition to a registry, the OIA provides a checklist for international travelers, which recommends beginning the research and planning for trips six months in advance.

How the iSTAT team works

Within iSTAT, committees have designated responsibilities to oversee during an overseas crisis, including health and safety, infectious diseases, medical response, evacuation and family communications. Each member of the team has at least two levels of backup, to ensure there is always someone ready to step in, says Walsh.

“Not everyone is available during the summer, a time when many people in the Stanford community are overseas for research, internships or service opportunities,” he says. “If we didn’t have redundancies built into the plan and multiple backups when people leave for other jobs or on vacation, we would be struggling to find replacements during a crisis.”

Walsh says the iSTAT plan guides members through the activities and milestones they should be overseeing during an overseas crisis.

“The plan makes it easier to enter into a situation and pick up someone else’s responsibilities,” he says. “If the backup of the backup is called into service, that person can read the plan and will know exactly what to do.”

Walsh says iSTAT also has assigned individual members to focus on the needs of specific constituencies: faculty, undergraduates, graduate students, postdoctoral scholars and staff.

For instance, Ken Hsu, director of the Graduate Life Office, would be put on alert if there was concern that graduate students would not be able to contact their families due to problems with a country’s communications system. If Hsu were not available, his backup would step in, and if his backup were not available, the next person in the plan would take charge.

If researchers are traveling to a location with known risks – if the U.S. Department of State has issued a Travel Warning for the country, for instance – the OIA and Stanford’s Risk Management office can help travelers assess and reduce risk, as well as develop a withdrawal contingency plan before they go.

While Stanford’s International Travel Policy allows graduate students to travel to countries with Travel Warnings, with the approval of their departments, it does not allow undergraduate students to do so. Stanford’s Bing Overseas Studies Program postponed its program in Istanbul for 2016-17, after the State Department issued a Travel Warning for Turkey.

The OIA website also offers guidelines on common international travel issues, and links to appropriate Stanford contacts for assistance on travel documents and preparation, travel expenses, personal safety, digital security and personal health.