4 Items Often Overlooked in Evacuation Planning for Study Abroad Programs

A college campus

Evacuations for study abroad programs are often unpredictable, but can occur during any program at any time due to a variety of reasons. No region or student is immune from natural disasters, political unrest, and unforeseen medical issues. Therefore, institutions must be proactive to manage evacuations and reduce risks to all students, staff, and faculty involved.

To help your institution enhance support for students while remaining in compliance with the law, we interviewed an expert on this issue: Margaret Wiedenhoeft, Associate Director of the Center for International Programs at Kalamazoo College. Margaret has worked in the Center for International Programs for over ten years in a variety of positions and currently manages study abroad programs in China, France, India, Italy, Germany, Spain, and Thailand.

Interview with Margaret Wiedenhoeft

Lisa LaPoint: Margaret, thank you for this conversation. What are potential factors often overlooked when institutions undertake evacuation planning for study abroad?

Margaret Wiedenhoeft: There are four that are especially common:

  • Clarifying responsibilities during an evacuation process ahead of time
  • Ensuring readily available contact information for staff who are abroad
  • Requiring medical evacuation insurance — not just medical insurance
  • Being ready to support students upon their return to the home campus


The first is assigning responsibilities ahead of time to different “jobs” in the evacuation process.

Evacuation is really a team effort. In order not to overwhelm any one individual, it is important to create roles as part of the evacuation plan. This way when an event does occur, someone is assigned to each role, and can refer to the plan on what the expectations are:

  • One person to communicate with family
  • One person to communicate with the staff on the program abroad
  • One person to keep the appropriate campus officials notified

Depending on the size and nature of the event, this may be handled within the study abroad office or may include colleagues from other offices on campus.


The second sounds really simple, but it’s critical to make sure that home campus personnel always have contact information for college representatives or local staff for each program abroad. If your college or university offers medical evacuation insurance (or other types of evacuation insurance), make sure those contact numbers are available as well, preferably in staff cell phones.


The third relates to the most common type of evacuation, which is medical.

Medical evacuation insurance is not the same as medical insurance. Most colleges and universities do have a requirement that students have adequate medical insurance coverage to cover them outside the United States. Not all require medical evacuation insurance, but if you do require both, understand that medical evacuation has to do solely with the transport of a student to an appropriate medical facility for treatment. The payment for that treatment is what will (hopefully) be covered by medical insurance.


Finally, programs should consider how they will support students once they return back to the home campus. For students who experience an emergency evacuation, reintegrating into the home environment may be more challenging than for other participants who were able to complete the program. Students may benefit from counseling or having the opportunity to talk about their experience with staff who were involved in the evacuation process.

Lisa LaPoint: Thank you, Margaret!


You may be interested in Margaret Wiedenhoeft’s in-depth guidebook Evacuation Planning Procedures for Study Abroad Emergencies, which reviews:

  • 5 critical steps to developing an effective evacuation plan
  • Tools and checklists for on-site protocols in the event of a medical evacuation, a natural disaster, or political unrest
  • How to ensure clear communication during the response and evacuation
  • How to determine the appropriate response to the event
  • What to expect regarding the costs of evacuation
  • How to respond to media inquiries effectively