Updated by KC ISSS in April 2019
By: The KC ISSS Crisis Management Subcommittee
Your institution should have a comprehensive crisis management or emergency operations plan in place governing the daunting scenario of a worldwide health crisis (e.g., outbreak of infectious disease like Zika, pandemic flu, Ebola, etc.). If not, your first point of contact upon learning that an international student or scholar may have been exposed to an infectious disease should be your institution’s Senior International Officer (SIO). That individual can then contact appropriate campus and municipal health authorities, such as the Risk Management Office, Department of Public Health, and/or infectious disease faculty in a School of Public Health, to implement containment quarantine protocols.
For continuation of operations in the event international office staff members are affected by an infectious disease, have an office procedures manual on standby with contact information for each team member’s frequent contacts across campus so that others can step in and keep the office running until affected individuals return to work.
Please note that the U.S. Department of State cannot interfere with another country’s decision to quarantine individuals exposed to infectious diseases.
- Prior to travel, recommend that students visit a travel medicine specialist or local department of health to obtain any necessary vaccinations and medications.
- Sign up for travel alerts from the Department of State.
- Establish a separate webpage or brightly-colored update section on your office’s homepage to keep individuals apprised of any communications from university or government officials.
- Encourage those traveling abroad to register for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).
- Update your office’s social media and newsletters with pertinent information about travel restrictions due to health crises, with links directly to government sources.
- Advise of the availability of USCIS work authorization for economic hardship, and liaise with Student Accounting to try to avoid late payment holds until the issue is resolved.
- Contact the international admissions office and any recruiters who may be working in the affected area. Discuss the potential impact on recruitment and reach a decision on whether applications should/can be continued to be processed from the area.
- Work with Student Housing to determine whether it would be possible to offer international students the option of remaining on campus during breaks to avoid having to return to a country experiencing an outbreak.
- Provide necessary or helpful letters explaining the student or scholar’s situation in case they need to return home, need an authorized early withdrawal or reduced course load for medical reasons, or need to explain an unexpected absence to academic advisors, supervisors, or faculty.
- Engage Student Counseling or Student Health & Wellness offices to provide emotional and medical support to affected international students.
- Connect affected visiting scholars with Employee Counseling or Human Resources professionals for support regarding time off for medical issues.
- Research how local immigration support organizations are supporting members of their community.
Important resources, in addition to your institution’s specific plan, include:
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (“CDC”), https://www.cdc.gov/, specifically the section on Travelers' Health
- Your state’s Department of Public Health (the US Department of Agriculture maintains a list)
- The US Department of State’s travel advisories
- World Health Organization’s Emergencies page
- NAFSA Publication: “Crisis Management in a Cross-Cultural Setting: International Student and Scholar Services” which can be purchased online at the NAFSA bookstore.