Easier with a Plan

During the past four years, Peter Briggs of Michigan State University has dealt with four separate incidents in which Chinese students were hit by cars while walking. Two of the students died, while the other two sustained serious injuries and required extended hospitalization and rehabilitation periods.

For each of these emergencies, Briggs and his staff juggled numerous concerns: Were the surviving students receiving proper care? Who should take charge of the situation? Who would notify the families? How could his office partner with local police and medical providers to overcome language barriers? Who would notify the insurance companies and sort out financial obligations? Along with that, Briggs says it was important for his staff to make sure the family and friends of the injured and deceased students received the support they needed.

“Any time you’re dealing with serious injury or death of a student, it’s so emotional—there’s no way around that,” says Briggs, who is director of MSU’s Office for International Students and Scholars. “Emergencies happen, and we’re almost in the role of being a parent to our international students while they’re here. We feel responsible for them.”

One of the injured students had two broken legs and required a transitional place to recuperate after her discharge from the hospital. She wouldn’t be able to resume classes right away, but she wanted to stay in the United States to continue receiving care from her medical team. Briggs worked closely with a social worker at the hospital, as well as the Chinese Consulate, to make that possible.

“Planning ahead for an emergency gives you an understanding of what to do when something happens,” says Briggs. “It’s also important to build relationships around campus and within the local community so we don’t have to do it all.”

Care During Crisis

International advisers at colleges and universities across the United States are accustomed to dealing with crises involving their international students and scholars. These incidents may encompass a wide range of circumstances, from accidental death or suicide to serious illness, mental breakdown, or sexual assault. Although virtually every college and university has a detailed, campuswide threat assessment plan, it’s also important for international offices to have a plan for dealing with crises. And the best time to develop that plan is before a crisis occurs.

“It’s important for us to have our own plan for supporting our students during time of crisis because we have a code of care over our student and scholar populations,” says Teri Albrecht, director of international student and scholar services at The University of Texas-Austin. “Their family members are usually not in the U.S., and we can act as an extension of their support network while they’re living here.”

Albrecht’s office has developed a crisis management plan that details step-by-step the actions to take for various emergency situations. It’s meant to complement the universitywide crisis response plan, she says.

This is an excerpt from “Crisis Management is Easier When You Have a Plan in Place” (134kb ) by Karen Doss Bowman, which appeared in the January/February 2014 issue of International Educator magazine.