Stanford's Santiago center in 'good shape' after earthquake

L.A. Cicero Irene Kennedy

Irene Kennedy, executive director of Stanford's Bing Overseas Studies Program

It has been more than a month since a massive 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit Chile, where Stanford's Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP) has a center in Santiago. Irene Kennedy, executive director of BOSP, talks about the conditions at the center and what Stanford learned from the experience.

How is everything at the Santiago center now?

Everything is in pretty good shape. We had a seismic engineer look at the center. There was no structural damage. There were superficial cracks that are now being fixed. So, students will be studying there this quarter. We worked with students to offer alternatives if they were concerned and a couple accepted.

Have you made any changes to the facility or program as a result of the earthquake?

We've decided to add some emergency supplies at the center itself. They have an emergency back-up system, but it ran for a limited number of hours. We decided to augment the emergency equipment there.

We also are strictly limiting student travel in Chile during the spring quarter. Students are prohibited from traveling to Concepción and surrounding areas, the part of the country hardest hit. And we are requiring each student to have a personal cell phone.

What are the conditions in the area where the Santiago center is located?

The area around the Santiago center was not greatly affected by the earthquake. These include the municipalities of Providencia and Las Condes, where most students live with host families, as well as Vitacura and La Reina. There is more damage in the historical center of Santiago.

The provost praised the response to the earthquake at the Santiago campus during a Faculty Senate meeting. What emergency protocols were in place?

We have emergency protocols at all the centers. The protocols in each area often reflect the housing situation. There are several campuses where we house students in a group – Oxford, Cape Town, Australia and Beijing. In those cases, much like campus, there are emergency assembly points. But most centers rely on host families for housing. In those places – like Santiago – we rely on phone trees. In the case of Santiago, it didn't take long to get in touch with all the students. Many of the students had already been in contact with their families.

What role did Stanford play in getting assistance for the one student who was injured?

It was a significant role. Her host family took her to an emergency room, which was very crowded. She decided not to stay. When our director became aware that she was injured, he took her to a private hospital and stayed with her while she was evaluated.

Stanford has contracts with two emergency evacuation companies. We alerted On Call International to the fact that we had a student who might need medical evacuation. They have designated clinics and doctors who evaluated her, and her family was very involved. The decision was made to evacuate her, and Dr. Ira Friedman from the campus Vaden Health Center was key. The student was brought back here to Stanford Hospital, and her mother was brought here as well.

What does BOSP do to address issues of safety and security generally?

We do an orientation for students on campus. But the most important safety orientation happens on site. So, if it is an earthquake-prone zone – as Chile is – then the staff talks about earthquakes. They also talk about personal safety: What is appropriate behavior on the streets or when out in the evening? What are the less desirable parts of the city? They also talk about the emergency response plan.

What did you learn from the Chile experience?

The experience proved that the protocol worked in this situation. We could experience a different type of emergency elsewhere – political unrest, transportation strikes, economic crises. The emergency plans we have are good. But a lot depends on individual circumstances. For example, on Monday suicide bombers attacked Moscow subways. Fortunately, BOSP does not have any students in Moscow during the spring quarter, so there are no student-related concerns – unless a Stanford student was traveling in Moscow independently, which we have no way of knowing. According to our director in Moscow, no colleagues or people related to the program were affected.

As a result of the earthquake in Chile, we decided to do a broad review of what equipment we have at each center. For instance, we are getting each center a satellite phone, which could be helpful if the cell phone grid goes down or there is a lengthy power failure.